The semantics of grammatical gender: A cross-cultural study

Abstract

Although most present-day scholars claim that grammatical gender has no meaning correlates, anecdotal evidence dating back to the Greeks suggests that grammatical gender carries connotative meanings of femininity and masculinity. In the present study native German speakers (tested in Germany) and native Spanish speakers (tested in Mexico) judged 54 high-frequency translation equivalents on semantic differential scales chosen to reflect dimensions of evaluation, potency, and activity. Half the words were of feminine gender in German but of masculine gender in Spanish (Type I words), and half were of masculine gender in German and of feminine gender in Spanish (Type II words). As predicted, German speakers judged Type II words higher in potency than Type I words, whereas Spanish speakers judged Type I words higher in potency than Type II words. The conclusion was that grammatical gender does affect meaning.

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Correspondence to Toshi Konishi.

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The research reported is based on a dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the Ph.D. in psychology at UCLA. I am grateful to Ingrid Hudabiunigg for collecting the German data and to Olga Bustos-Romero for collecting the Spanish data. My sincere thanks to my dissertation committee, Donald MacKay, Nancy Henley, Roger Andersen, Raimo Anttila, Patricia Greenfield, and William McCarthy for their advice and assistance. Donald MacKay and Nancy Henley also provided helpful comments on the present manuscript.

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Konishi, T. The semantics of grammatical gender: A cross-cultural study. J Psycholinguist Res 22, 519–534 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01068252

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Keywords

  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Anecdotal Evidence
  • Spanish Speaker
  • German Speaker
  • Grammatical Gender