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Keywords:

  • Language and thought;
  • Deductive reasoning;
  • Property inference;
  • Grammatical gender;
  • Linguistic relativity

Abstract

Grammatical gender is independent of biological sex for the majority of animal names (e.g., any giraffe, be it male or female, is grammatically treated as feminine). However, there is apparent semantic motivation for grammatical gender classes, especially in mapping human terms to gender. This research investigated whether this motivation affects deductive inference in native German speakers. We compared German with Japanese speakers (a language without grammatical gender) when making inferences about sex-specific biological properties. We found that German speakers tended to erroneously draw inferences when the sex in the premise and grammatical gender of the target animal agreed. An over-generalization of the grammar–semantics mapping was found even when the sex of the target was explicitly indicated. However, these effects occurred only when gender-marking articles accompanied the nouns. These results suggest that German speakers project sex-specific biological properties onto gender-marking articles but not onto conceptual representations of animals per se.