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By Laura Louise Paterson (auth.)

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Extra info for British Pronoun Use, Prescription, and Processing: Linguistic and Social Influences Affecting ‘They’ and ‘He’

Sample text

She for example) were read more slowly than sentences where the gender of the pronoun matched the stereotypical gender of the social role. This led Carreiras et al. to conclude that ‘we know from the mismatch condition that stereotype information is activated when the pronoun is read’ (1996: 646). Thus, the gender marking on the pronoun, or rather, its semantic value, was interfering with the processing of gender stereotypes. Kennison and Trofe (2003) had 80 participants rate 405 different nouns (and noun compounds) for gender stereotypes.

Showed that there was a processing difficulty when pronominal gender did not match that of stereotypically gendered antecedents. Using reflexive pronouns, they found that stereotypical gender disagreements caused a brainwave ‘similar to the P600 effect’ (1997: 273). The P600 (or syntactic positive shift) is a large positive wave, detectable when measuring event-related brain potentials, which appears to be triggered by ‘syntactic anomalies’ (Osterhout et al. 1997: 273). Osterhout et al. showed that the brainwave was also triggered by gender mismatches caused by pronouns, suggesting that the brain was treating gender agreement as a syntactic phenomenon.

Oppositegender pronouns were not processed as easily. In addition, singular they was ‘the pronoun of choice’ (1997: 108) when read with indefinite pronouns, suggesting that it was the most generic pronoun tested. g. that truck driver), as such constructions suggest that the speaker/writer knows (the sex of) the referent. In this experiment, the stereotypical gender-matched pronouns were always read most quickly, but singular they was again favoured over the opposite-gender pronoun. Foertsch and Gernsbacher (1997: 110) conclude by claiming that ‘singular they is an acceptable substitution for gender specific pronouns with nonreferential antecedents’.

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