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


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.


Grammatical gender Whorf Linguistic relativity Language and thought 


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)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of EssexEssexUK

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