Advertisement

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1767–1786 | Cite as

Grammatical gender and linguistic relativity: A systematic review

  • Steven SamuelEmail author
  • Geoff Cole
  • Madeline J. Eacott
Theoretical Review
  • 552 Downloads

Abstract

Many languages assign nouns to a grammatical gender class, such that “bed” might be assigned masculine gender in one language (e.g., Italian) but feminine gender in another (e.g., Spanish). In the context of research assessing the potential for language to influence thought (the linguistic relativity hypothesis), a number of scholars have investigated whether grammatical gender assignment “rubs off” on concepts themselves, such that Italian speakers might conceptualize beds as more masculine than Spanish speakers do. We systematically reviewed 43 pieces of empirical research examining grammatical gender and thought, which together tested 5,895 participants. We classified the findings in terms of their support for this hypothesis and assessed the results against parameters previously identified as potentially influencing outcomes. Overall, we found that support was strongly task- and context-dependent, and rested heavily on outcomes that have clear and equally viable alternative explanations. We also argue that it remains unclear whether grammatical gender is in fact a useful tool for investigating relativity.

Keywords

Grammatical gender Whorf Linguistic relativity Language and thought 

Notes

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Open practices statement

Details about the review and the search mechanisms can be found in the supplemental online materials (SOM1 and SOM2).

Supplementary material

13423_2019_1652_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (15 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 15 kb)
13423_2019_1652_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (32 kb)
ESM 2 (XLSX 32 kb)

References

  1. Almutrafi, F. (2015). Language and cognition: Effects of grammatical gender on the categorisation of objects (Unpublished doctoral thesis). Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UKGoogle Scholar
  2. Athanasopoulos, P. (2006). Effects of the grammatical representation of number on cognition in bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 89–96.Google Scholar
  3. Athanasopoulos, P. (2009). Cognitive representation of colour in bilinguals: The case of Greek blues. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12, 83–95.Google Scholar
  4. Athanasopoulos, P., & Boutonnet, B. (2016). Learning grammatical gender in a second language changes categorization of inanimate objects: Replications and new evidence from English learners of L2 French. In R. Alonso (Ed.), Cross-linguistic influence in second language acquisition (pp. 173–192). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  5. Athanasopoulos, P., & Bylund, E. (2013). Does grammatical aspect affect motion event cognition? A cross-linguistic comparison of English and Swedish speakers. Cognitive Science, 37, 286–309.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bassetti, B. (2007). Bilingualism and thought: Grammatical gender and concepts of objects in Italian–German bilingual children. International Journal of Bilingualism, 11, 251–273.Google Scholar
  7. Bassetti, B., & Nicoladis, E. (2016). Research on grammatical gender and thought in early and emergent bilinguals. International Journal of Bilingualism, 20, 3–16.Google Scholar
  8. Belacchi, C., & Cubelli, R. (2012). Implicit knowledge of grammatical gender in preschool children. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 41, 295–310.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Beller, S., Brattebø, K. F., Lavik, K. O., Reigstad, R. D., & Bender, A. (2015). Culture or language: What drives effects of grammatical gender? Cognitive Linguistics, 26, 331–359.Google Scholar
  10. Bender, A., Beller, S., & Klauer, K. C. (2011). Grammatical gender in German: A case for linguistic relativity? Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 1821–1835.Google Scholar
  11. Bender, A., Beller, S., & Klauer, K. C. (2016a). Crossing grammar and biology for gender categorisations: Investigating the gender congruency effect in generic nouns for animates. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 28, 530–558.Google Scholar
  12. Bender, A., Beller, S., & Klauer, K. C. (2016b). Lady Liberty and Godfather Death as candidates for linguistic relativity? Scrutinizing the gender congruency effect on personified allegories with explicit and implicit measures. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 69, 48–64.Google Scholar
  13. Bender, A., Beller, S., & Klauer, K. C. (2018). Gender congruency from a neutral point of view: The roles of gender classes and conceptual connotations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 44, 1580–1608.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Bobb, S. C., & Mani, N. (2013). Categorizing with gender: Does implicit grammatical gender affect semantic processing in 24-month-old toddlers? Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 115, 297–308.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Boroditsky, L. (2001). Does language shape thought? Mandarin and English speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology, 43, 1–22.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Boroditsky, L., & Schmidt, L. A. (2000). Sex, syntax, and semantics. In L. R. Gleitman & A. K. Joshi (Eds.), Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 42–46). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  17. Boutonnet, B., Athanasopoulos, P., & Thierry, G. (2012). Unconscious effects of grammatical gender during object categorisation. Brain Research, 1479, 72–79.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown, A., Lindsey, D. T., & Guckes, K. M. (2011). Color names, color categories, and color-cued visual search: Sometimes, color perception is not categorical. Journal of Vision, 11(12), 2:1–21.  https://doi.org/10.1167/11.12.2 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Brown, R., & Lenneberg, E. (1954). A study in language and cognition. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49, 454–462.Google Scholar
  20. Casasanto, D. (2010). Space for thinking. In V. Evans & P. Chilton (Eds.), Language, cognition and space: The state of the art and new directions (pp. 453–478). London, UK: Equinox.Google Scholar
  21. Casasanto, D., Boroditsky, L., Phillips, W., Greene, J., Goswami, S., Bocanegra-Thiel, S., . . . Gil, D. (2004). How deep are effects of language on thought? Time estimation in speakers of English, Indonesian, Greek, and Spanish. In K. Forbus, D. Gentner, & T. Regier (Eds.), Proceedings of the 26th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 186–191). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  22. Cook, S. V. (2016). Gender matters: From L1 grammar to L2 semantics. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1–19.Google Scholar
  23. Corbett. (1991). Gender. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Costa, A., Kovacic, D., Fedorenko, E., & Caramazza, A. (2003). The gender congruency effect and the selection of freestanding and bound morphemes: Evidence from Croatian. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 29, 1270–1282.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Costa, A., Kovacic, D., Franck, J., & Caramazza, A. (2003). On the autonomy of the grammatical gender systems of the two languages of a bilingual. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6, 181–200.Google Scholar
  26. Cubelli, R., Paolieri, D., Lotto, L., & Job, R. (2011). The effect of grammatical gender on object categorization. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37, 449–460.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. De Bruin, A., Treccani, B., & Della Sala, S. (2015). Cognitive advantage in bilingualism: An example of publication bias? Psychological Science, 26, 99–107.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Degani, T. (2007). The semantic role of gender: Grammatical and biological gender match effects in English and Spanish (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.Google Scholar
  29. Dilkina, K., McClelland, J. L., & Boroditsky, L. (2007, August). How language affects thought in a connectionist model. Paper presented at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Nashville, TN.Google Scholar
  30. Dolscheid, S., Shayan, S., Majid, A., & Casasanto, D. (2013). The thickness of musical pitch: Psychophysical evidence for linguistic relativity. Psychological Science, 24, 613–621.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Eberhard, K. M., Heilman, M., & Scheutz, M. (2005, July). An empirical and computational test of linguistic relativity. Paper presented at the 27th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Stresa, Italy.Google Scholar
  32. Firestone, C., & Scholl, B. J. (2016). Cognition does not affect perception: Evaluating the evidence for “top-down” effects. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, e229.  https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X15000965 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Flaherty, M. (2001). How a language gender system creeps into perception. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32, 18–31.Google Scholar
  34. Forbes, J. N., Poulin-Dubois, D., Rivero, M. R., & Sera, M. D. (2008). Grammatical gender affects bilinguals’ conceptual gender: Implications for linguistic relativity and decision making. Open Applied Linguistics Journal, 1, 68–76.Google Scholar
  35. Foundalis, H. E. (2002). Evolution of gender in Indo-European languages. In W. D. Gray & C. Schunn (Eds.), Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 304–308). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Franklin, A., Clifford, A., Williamson, E., & Davies, I. (2005). Color term knowledge does not affect categorical perception of color in toddlers. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 90, 114–141.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Gilbert, A. L., Regier, T., Kay, P., & Ivry, R. B. (2006). Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 489–494.Google Scholar
  38. Gilbert, A. L., Regier, T., Kay, P., & Ivry, R. B. (2008). Support for lateralization of the Whorf effect beyond the realm of color discrimination. Brain and Language, 105, 91–98.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Gleitman, L., & Papafragou, A. (2013). Relations between language and thought. In D. Reisberg (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of cognitive psychology (pp. 504–523). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Haertlé, I. (2017). Does grammatical gender influence perception? A study of Polish and French speakers. Psychology of Language and Communication, 21, 386–407.Google Scholar
  41. Imai, M., & Gentner, D. (1997). A cross-linguistic study of early word meaning: Universal ontology and linguistic influence. Cognition, 62, 169–200.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Imai, M., Schalk, L., Saalbach, H., & Okada, H. (2014). All giraffes have female-specific properties: Influence of grammatical gender on deductive reasoning about sex-specific properties in German speakers. Cognitive Science, 38, 514–536.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Kaushanskaya, M., & Smith, S. (2016). Do grammatical-gender distinctions learned in the second language influence native-language lexical processing? International Journal of Bilingualism, 20, 30–39.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Konishi, T. (1993). The semantics of grammatical gender: A cross-cultural study. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 22, 519–534.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Konishi, T. (1994). The connotations of gender: A semantic differential study of German and Spanish. Word, 45, 317–327.Google Scholar
  46. Kousta, S.-T., Vinson, D. P., & Vigliocco, G. (2008). Investigating linguistic relativity through bilingualism: The case of grammatical gender. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 843–858.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Kurinski, E., Jambor, E., & Sera, M. D. (2016). Spanish grammatical gender: Its effects on categorization in native Hungarian speakers. International Journal of Bilingualism, 20, 76–93.Google Scholar
  48. Kurinski, E., & Sera, M. D. (2011). Does learning Spanish grammatical gender change English-speaking adults’ categorization of inanimate objects? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 203–220.Google Scholar
  49. Lambelet, A. (2016). Second grammatical gender system and grammatical gender-linked connotations in adult emergent bilinguals with French as a second language. International Journal of Bilingualism, 20, 62–75.Google Scholar
  50. Landor, R. (2014). Grammatical categories and cognition across five languages: The case of grammatical gender and its potential effects on the conceptualisation of objects (Doctoral thesis). Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.Google Scholar
  51. Lucy, J. A. (2016). Recent advances in the study of linguistic relativity in historical context: A critical assessment. Language Learning, 66, 487–515.Google Scholar
  52. Lupyan, G. (2012). Linguistically modulated perception and cognition: The label-feedback hypothesis. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 54.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00054 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  53. Martinez, I. M., & Shatz, M. (1996). Linguistic influences on categorization in preschool children: A crosslinguistic study. Journal of Child Language, 23, 529–545.Google Scholar
  54. Mickan, A., Schiefke, M., & Stefanowitsch, A. (2014). Key is a llave is a Schlussel: A failure to replicate an experiment from Boroditsky et al. 2003. Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association, 2, 39–50.Google Scholar
  55. Montefinese, M., Ambrosini, E., & Roivainen, E. (2019). No grammatical gender effect on affective ratings: Evidence from Italian and German languages. Cognition and Emotion, 33, 848–854.  https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2018.1483322 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Mullen, M. K. (1990). Children’s classifications of nature and artifact pictures into female and male categories. Sex Roles, 23, 577–587.Google Scholar
  57. Nicoladis, E. (2019). [Unpublished data].Google Scholar
  58. Nicoladis, E., Da Costa, N., & Foursha-Stevenson, C. (2016). Discourse relativity in Russian-English bilingual preschoolers’ classification of objects by gender. International Journal of Bilingualism, 20, 17–29.Google Scholar
  59. Nicoladis, E., & Foursha-Stevenson, C. (2012). Language and culture effects on gender classification of objects. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43, 1095–1109.Google Scholar
  60. Park, H. I., & Ziegler, N. (2014). Cognitive shift in the bilingual mind: Spatial concepts in Korean–English bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 17, 410–430.Google Scholar
  61. Pavlidou, T.-S., & Alvanoudi, A. (2013). Grammatical gender and cognition. In N. Lavidas, T. Alexio, & A. Sougari (Eds.), Major trends in theoretical and applied linguistics (Vol. 2, pp. 109–124). London, UK: Versita.Google Scholar
  62. Pavlidou, T.-S., & Alvanoudi, A. (2018). Conceptualizing the world as “female” or “male”: Further remarks on grammatical gender and speakers’ cognition. In N. Topintzi, N. Lavidas, & M. Moumtzi (Eds.), Selected papers on theoretical and applied linguistics from ISTAL23. Thessaloniki, Greece: School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.Google Scholar
  63. Phillips, W., & Boroditsky, L. (2003, August). Can quirks of grammar affect the way you think? Grammatical gender and object concepts. Paper presented at the 25th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Boston, MA.Google Scholar
  64. Pinker, S. (1994). The language instinct. New York, NY, US: William Morrow & Co.Google Scholar
  65. Pylyshyn, Z. W. (1984). Computation and cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  66. Ramos, S., & Roberson, D. (2011). What constrains grammatical gender effects on semantic judgements? Evidence from Portuguese. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23, 102–111.Google Scholar
  67. Roberson, D., Pak, H., & Hanley, J. R. (2008). Categorical perception of colour in the left and right visual field is verbally mediated: Evidence from Korean. Cognition, 107, 752–762.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Saalbach, H., Imai, M., & Schalk, L. (2012). Grammatical gender and inferences about biological properties in German-speaking children. Cognitive Science, 36, 1251–1267.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. Samuel, S., Roehr-Brackin, K., Pak, H., & Kim, H. (2018). Cultural effects rather than a bilingual advantage in cognition: A review and an empirical study. Cognitive Science, 42, 2313–2341.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  70. Samuel, S., Roehr-Brackin, K., & Roberson, D. (2016). “She says, he says”: Does the sex of an instructor interact with the grammatical gender of targets in a perspective-taking task? International Journal of Bilingualism, 20, 40–61.Google Scholar
  71. Sato, S., & Athanasopoulos, P. (2018). Grammatical gender affects gender perception: Evidence for the structural-feedback hypothesis. Cognition, 176, 220–231.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  72. Sedlmeier, P., Tipandjan, A., & Jänchen, A. (2016). How persistent are grammatical gender effects? The case of German and Tamil. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 45, 317–336.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  73. Segel, E., & Boroditsky, L. (2011). Grammar in art. Frontiers in Psychology, 1, 244.  https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00244 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  74. Semenuks, A., Phillips, W., Dalca, I., Kim, C., & Boroditsky, L. (2017). Effects of grammatical gender on object description. In G. Gunzelmann, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1060–1065). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.Google Scholar
  75. Sera, M. D., Berge, C. A. H., & del Castillo Pintado, J. (1994). Grammatical and conceptual forces in the attribution of gender by English and Spanish speakers. Cognitive Development, 9, 261–292.  https://doi.org/10.1016/0885-2014(94)90007-8 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Sera, M. D., Elieff, C., Forbes, J., Burch, M. C., Rodríguez, W., & Dubois, D. P. (2002). When language affects cognition and when it does not: An analysis of grammatical gender and classification. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 131, 377–397.Google Scholar
  77. Slobin, D. I. (1996). From “thought and language” to “thinking for speaking.” In J. J. Gumperz & S. C. Levinson (Eds.), Rethinking linguistic relativity (pp. 70–96). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  78. Slobin, D. I. (2003). Language and thought online: Cognitive consequences of linguistic relativity. In D. Gentner & S. Goldin-Meadow (Eds.), Language in mind: Advances in the study of language and thought (pp. 157–192). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  79. Thierry, G. (2016). Neurolinguistic relativity: How language flexes human perception and cognition. Language Learning, 66, 690–713.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  80. Vernich, L. (2017). Does learning a foreign language affect object categorization in native speakers of a language with grammatical gender? The case of Lithuanian speakers learning three languages with different types of gender systems (Italian, Russian and German). International Journal of Bilingualism, 23, 417–436.Google Scholar
  81. Vernich, L., Argus, R., & Kamandulytė-Merfeldienė, L. (2017). Extending research on the influence of grammatical gender on object classification: A cross-linguistic study comparing Estonian, Italian and Lithuanian native speakers. Eesti Rakenduslingvistika Ühingu Aastaraamat, 13, 223–240.Google Scholar
  82. Vigliocco, G., Vinson, D. P., Paganelli, F., & Dworzynski, K. (2005). Grammatical gender effects on cognition: Implications for language learning and language use. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134, 501–520.Google Scholar
  83. Vuksanovic, J., Bjekic, J., & Radivojevic, N. (2015). Grammatical gender and mental representation of object: The case of musical instruments. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 44, 383–397.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  84. Whorf, B. L. (1956). Language, thought and reality: Selected writing of Benjamín Lee Whorf. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  85. Winawer, J., Witthoft, N., Frank, M. C., Wu, L., Wade, A. R., & Boroditsky, L. (2007). Russian blues reveal effects of language on color discrimination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 7780–7785.Google Scholar
  86. Witzel, C., & Gegenfurtner, K. R. (2013). Categorical sensitivity to color differences. Journal of Vision, 13(7), 1:1–33.  https://doi.org/10.1167/13.7.1 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  87. Wolff, P., & Holmes, K. J. (2011). Linguistic relativity. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 2, 253–265.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  88. Yorkston, E., & De Mello, G. E. (2005). Linguistic gender marking and categorization. Journal of Consumer Research, 32, 224–234.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EssexEssexUK

Personalised recommendations