Effects of Grammatical Gender on Gender Inferences: Experimental Evidence From Italian Common Gender Nouns

Elena Sofia Safina


Recent psycholinguistic research has focused on how different grammatical gender marking strategies affect people's mental representation of referents’ gender. Such works particularly explored how explicitly encoded linguistic elements, such as grammatical gender markers, may drive the inferential process as attentional clues. Results of reading comprehension tasks in French and German have shown that the explicit encoding of masculine gender in plural forms of role nouns often leads to a male bias, a specific masculine inference corresponding to the grammatical gender clue, even when the masculine form was intended as generic, thus including women and men. Moreover, comparing generic masculine forms with gender-fair alternatives revealed that the latter significantly reduce this male bias. The present study examines the impact of three gender marking strategies on the construction of generic mental representations. Indeed, the experiment tested generic masculine against two gender-fair forms (split masculine/feminine forms and ambiguous syntactic reformulations) among 38 Italian speakers. No significant effect was found in generating a generic mental representation through form manipulation. However, ambiguous syntactic reformulation realised by presenting target nouns from the Italian common gender noun class and through the neutralisation of determiners’ gender, increased the probability of a male-specific inference. Additionally, a keen interest in gender-fair language topics was linked to longer reaction times, indicating a higher cognitive effort during the inference process.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5296/ijl.v16i3.21824

Copyright (c) 2024 Elena Sofia Safina

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