It is generally assumed that all nouns belong to a gender in gender languages and that this constitutes a fundamental difference between gender systems and systems of noun classifiers. An analysis of gender and agreement in the Cameroonian Bantu language Eton challenges this assumption. Gender assignment cannot be predicted on semantic grounds in Eton, except for proper names and deictic kinship terms. Although these nouns trigger the same agreement pattern as nouns of gender 1, their behaviour differs too much from the other nouns for them to be analysed as gender 1 words. It is argued that they form the core of a set of genderless nouns. The agreement pattern they trigger is a multifunctional one: it marks agreement with gender 1 words and with genderless words. It will be shown that multifunctionality is a typical characteristic of agreement patterns in Bantu.
adamawa agreement applicative suffix areal linguistics augment bantu bena-yungur canonical approach comparative Bantu comparative concepts dictionary external possession grammar sketch historical syntax methodology noun classes noun phrase parametric approach possession proper names prosody prototypicality reconstruction reductionist approaches relative clauses scenario-based approach syntax tone word order éton