Ziej is a woman and het is a girl: A referent’s age guides pronominal gender variation in Limburgian

Joske Piepers*, Ad Backus, Jos Swanenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In this paper, we report on a study of gender reference in Limburgian, specifically the use of the neuter subject pronoun het ‘she’ (lit. ‘it’) to refer to a female referent. This pronoun is used in addition to the feminine pronoun ze ‘she’. We investigate the role of the referent’s social and grammatical characteristics in the variation between grammatically feminine and ‘non-feminine’ (nf; i.e., neuter and masculine) pronouns in two experiments. First, we test the effect of a referent’s age in a language production study, in which 41 native speakers participated. The results of this study indicate that speakers use het more often to refer to younger than to older women. Second, we use an acceptability judgment task (N = 72) to assess whether the preference for non-feminine pronouns for younger women might be explained by grammatical agreement with non-feminine antecedent nouns (e.g., grammatically neuter maedje ‘girl’). The results indicate that this is not the case: het is preferred as a pronoun for younger but not older women, regardless of an antecedent noun’s grammatical gender. We conclude that the variation in pronoun gender in Limburgian is a socio-pragmatic phenomenon, and we offer suggestions for future research in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-44
Number of pages44
JournalTaal en Tongval
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • female reference
  • gender
  • Limburgian dialect
  • pronoun
  • variation


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