Grammatical and conceptual forces in the attribution of gender by English and Spanish speakers

Maria D. Sera, Christian A H Berge, Javier del Castillo Pintado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

We compared the assignment of gender to masculine and feminine pictured objects-as classified by the Spanish grammar-by English- and Spanish-speaking children and adults in three experiments. Across all three studies, subjects participated in one of two conditions. In one condition, pictures alone were presented; in the other condition, pictures were shown and labeled. We found that speakers of Spanish began to classify the objects according to the grammatical gender of the Spanish language in the second grade, unlike speakers of English. The effect of grammatical gender was more pronounced for speakers of Spanish when the objects were labeled, pointing specifically to the role of language in their classifications. We also found that English speakers were consistent in their judgments, often classifying artificial objects as male-like and natural objects as female-like. Spanish speakers were also sensitive to the natural-female/artificial-male conceptual division. Finally, we found that the artificial-male/natural-female link was an earlier force in classification for speakers of English than grammatical gender was for speakers of Spanish, suggesting that grammatical classifications are superimposed on conceptual ones in development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-292
Number of pages32
JournalCognitive Development
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994

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