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Gender affects semantic competition : the effect of gender in a non-gender-marking language

Fukumura, Kumiko and Hyönä, Jukka and Scholfield, Merete (2013) Gender affects semantic competition : the effect of gender in a non-gender-marking language. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 39 (4). pp. 1012-1021.

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English speakers tend to produce fewer pronouns when a referential competitor has the same gender as the referent than otherwise. Traditionally, this gender congruence effect has been explained in terms of ambiguity avoidance (e.g., Arnold, Eisenband, Brown-Schmidt, & Trueswell, 2000; Fukumura, Van Gompel, & Pickering, 2010). However, an alternative hypothesis is that the competitor’s gender congruence affects semantic competition, making the referent less accessible relative to when the competitor has a different gender (Arnold & Griffin, 2007). Experiment 1 found that even in Finnish, which is a non-gendered language, the competitor’s gender congruence results in fewer pronouns, supporting the semantic competition account. In Experiment 2, Finnish native speakers took part in an English version of the same experiment. The effect of gender congruence was larger in Experiment 2 than in Experiment 1, suggesting that the presence of a same-gender competitor resulted in a larger reduction in pronoun use in English than in Finnish. In contrast, other non-linguistic similarity had similar effects in both experiments. This indicated that the effect of gender congruence in English is not entirely driven by semantic competition: Speakers also avoid gender-ambiguous pronouns.