Semantic gender assignment regularities in German

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Gender assignment relates to a native speaker's knowledge of the structure of the gender system of his/her language, allowing the speaker to select the appropriate gender for each noun. Whereas categorical assignment rules and exceptional gender assignment are well investigated, assignment regularities, i.e., tendencies in the gender distribution identified within the vocabulary of a language, are still controversial. The present study is an empirical contribution trying to shed light on the gender assignment system native German speakers have at their disposal. Participants presented with a category (e.g., predator) and a pair of gender-marked pseudo-words (e.g., der Trelle vs. die Stisse) preferentially selected the pseudo-word preceded by the gender-marked determiner “associated” with the category (e.g., masculine). This finding suggests that semantic regularities might be part of the gender assignment system of native speakers.

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