Vol. 20, No. 1
The Role of Orthographic Gender in Cognition
1Center for Research on Language, University of California, San Diego
2Psychology, University of Califonia, Berkeley
Although grammatical gender category assignment is arbitrary with respect to the semantics of gender, speakers of languages with grammatical gender conceive of non-gendered objects as having gendered characteristics consistent with the grammatical gender category to which they belong, a phenomenon we call conceptual spread. To extend these findings, we ask if orthographic gender – gender information present in the written, but not the spoken form of a language – also leads to conceptual spread. In Experiment 1, monolingual speakers of Chinese, a language that contains orthographic gender, and monolingual speakers of English, a language that does not contain orthographic gender, were asked to rate nouns on a scale assessing masculinity/femininity. Results show no evidence of conceptual spread related to orthographic gender. To rule out methodological concerns, in Experiment 2 we asked monolingual speakers of German, a language with grammatical gender, to complete the same task as in Experiment 1. The expected effect of grammatical gender category membership and conceptual spread was found for the German speakers. This suggests that grammatical gender, unlike orthographic gender, leads to conceptual spread. We discuss various differences between grammatical gender and orthographic gender that may lead to these results.