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What’s in a (Role) Name? Formal and Conceptual Aspects of Comprehending Personal Nouns

Abstract

Two eye-tracking studies assessed effects of grammatical and conceptual gender cues in generic role name processing in German. Participants read passages about a social or occupational group introduced by way of a generic role name (e.g., Soldaten/soldiers, Künstler/artists). Later in the passage the gender of this group was specified by the anaphoric expression diese Männer/these men or diese Frauen/these women. Testing masculine generic role names of male, female or neutral conceptual gender (Exp. 1) showed that a gender mismatch between the role name’s conceptual gender and the anaphor significantly slowed reading immediately before and after the anaphoric noun. A mismatch between the antecedent’s grammatical gender and the anaphor slowed down the reading of the anaphoric noun itself. Testing grammatically gender-unmarked role names (Exp. 2) revealed a general male bias in participants’ understanding, irrespective of grammatical or conceptual gender. The experiments extend previous findings on gender effects to non-referential role names and generic contexts. Theoretical aspects of gender and plural reference as well as gender information in mental models are discussed.

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Correspondence to Lisa Irmen.

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Irmen, L. What’s in a (Role) Name? Formal and Conceptual Aspects of Comprehending Personal Nouns. J Psycholinguist Res 36, 431–456 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-007-9053-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-007-9053-z

Keywords

  • Grammatical gender
  • conceptual gender
  • Anaphor resolution
  • Referentiality