Faculté des lettres

The masculine form and its competing interpretations in French : When linking grammatically masculine role names to female referents is difficult

Gygax, P. ; Gabriel, U. ; Lévy, A. ; Pool, E. ; Grivel, M. ; Pedrazzini, E.

Using a word association paradigm we examined the extent to which readers can overcome the specific interpretation of the grammatical masculine form in French when instructed to embrace its generic meaning. In two experiments participants were to decide whether a person introduced by a kinship term (e.g. aunt) could be part of a group represented by a role name (e.g. musicians). After the... Plus

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    Summary
    Using a word association paradigm we examined the extent to which readers can overcome the specific interpretation of the grammatical masculine form in French when instructed to embrace its generic meaning. In two experiments participants were to decide whether a person introduced by a kinship term (e.g. aunt) could be part of a group represented by a role name (e.g. musicians). After the completion of the first half of the experiment, participants were explicitly reminded about the generic interpretation and use of the masculine form. Although the reminder resulted in some level of generic interpretation, there were still strong traces of the specific interpretation in the response times, regardless of participants’ inhibition capacities (Experiment 1). Adding a supplementary constraint by exposing readers to distractor role names in feminine forms (Experiment 2) did not reveal any different effects. The results indicated that although readers can be motivated to elaboratively activate the generic interpretation of the masculine form, the latter can not completely overrule a more passively activated specific one.