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The Semantic Role of Gender: Grammatical and Biological Gender Match Effects in English and Spanish

Degani, Tamar (2007) The Semantic Role of Gender: Grammatical and Biological Gender Match Effects in English and Spanish. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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How does language affect thought? Do the grammatical structures of the language we speak influence the way we think about objects and ideas? The linguistic relativity hypothesis (Whorf, 1956) proposes that the specific language we speak affects the way we think about reality. Predictions made under this hypothesis (e.g., Boroditsky, Schmidt, & Phillips, 2003) posit that grammatical gender is an example of a linguistic structure that affects other aspects of thought. Specifically, because speakers of languages like Spanish denote a grammatical gender to every noun, including those with inanimate referents, this systematic distinction is thought to become part of the meaning representation of objects. Under this hypothesis, pairs of words that match in grammatical gender would be considered as more similar in meaning than pairs that do not share a gender. In four experiments we examined the role of grammatical gender, as well as biological gender, as an organizing dimension of the semantic representation of speakers of Spanish and English. With respect to biological gender, as denoted by English, we found that native English speakers consider pairs of words that share a biological gender (e.g., queen-cow) to be more similar in meaning than pairs that do not share a gender (e.g., king-waitress) (Experiment 1). However, match in biological gender was not sufficient to produce a priming effect in a lexical decision task (Experiment 4). With respect to grammatical gender, as denoted by Spanish, we found that in contrast to the predictions made under the linguistic relativity hypothesis, pairs that match in grammatical gender (e.g., 'camisa' (f) - 'mesa' (f), shirt-table respectively) did not elicit higher semantic similarity ratings by native Spanish speakers compared to unmatched pairs (Experiment 2), and furthermore these pairs were not processed more quickly or accurately in a primed naming task (Experiments 3A and 3B). We discuss the theoretical and practical considerations that may underlie these effects.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Degani, Tamartdegani@pitt.eduTDEGANI
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairTokowicz, NatashaTokowicz@pitt.eduTOKOWICZ
Committee MemberReichle, Erik Dreichle@pitt.eduREICHLE
Committee MemberWarren, Tessatessa@pitt.eduTESSA
Date: 14 June 2007
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 5 April 2007
Approval Date: 14 June 2007
Submission Date: 10 April 2007
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: biological gender; grammatical gender; linguistic relativity; semantic priming; semantic similarity
Other ID:, etd-04102007-153018
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:35
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:39


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