The processing of the Dutch masculine generic zijn ‘his’ across stereotype contexts: An eye-tracking study
SourcePLoS One, 13, 10, (2018), article e0205903
Article / Letter to editor
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CLS - Centre for Language Studies
SubjectGrammar & Cognition; Language & Communication
Language users often infer a person’s gender when it is not explicitly mentioned. This information is included in the mental model of the described situation, giving rise to expectations regarding the continuation of the discourse. Such gender inferences can be based on two types of information: gender stereotypes (e.g., nurses are female) and masculine generics, which are grammatically masculine word forms that are used to refer to all genders in certain contexts (e.g., To each his own). In this eye-tracking experiment (N = 82), which is the first to systematically investigate the online processing of masculine generic pronouns, we tested whether the frequently used Dutch masculine generic zijn ‘his’ leads to a male bias. In addition, we tested the effect of context by introducing male, female, and neutral stereotypes. We found no evidence for the hypothesis that the generically-intended masculine pronoun zijn ‘his’ results in a male bias. However, we found an effect of stereotype context. After introducing a female stereotype, reading about a man led to an increase in processing time. However, the reverse did not hold, which parallels the finding in social psychology that men are penalized more for gender-nonconforming behavior. This suggests that language processing is not only affected by the strength of stereotype contexts; the associated disapproval of violating these gender stereotypes affects language processing, too.
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