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The U. Institute of Peace advances scholarship, carries out programs on the ground, and informs policy on issues of gender, peace and security. Type: Analysis and Commentary. Gender ; Nonviolent Action. From Afghanistan to Sudan, women in conflict areas are increasingly turning to technology to build peace and reduce gender inequality. Within Indo-European, this fate has befallen most Iranian and many Indic languages Corbett, , p.

In other languages, too, we find morphological markers that are recognizable as remnants of former gender systems. Gender is a famously difficult property to acquire as an adult learner. This fact has prompted extensive research. However, the feature has also attracted the attention of first language acquisition researchers and psycholinguists in general. The following section sketches a number of interesting issues and findings from the vast literature.


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The task of acquiring a gender system is complex, as gender involves an intricate mixture of semantics, morphology, and syntax. Children have to figure out the function of the markers, their distribution across words, as well as the underlying syntactic dependencies. Moreover, they have to learn which noun belongs to which gender and—ideally—why. Unfortunately, accounts are difficult to compare, as the target state of acquisition is not always clearly defined. Second, the use of articles and other adnominal targets may be mastered earlier than the use of pronouns Mills, , p. This pattern can be explained by the hypothesis that children start out acquiring determiner-noun pairs as chunks or constructions MacWhinney, , p.

Tighter constructions consisting of neighboring words are likely to be easier to entrench in memory. Generally speaking, there seem to be three factors that influence the speed of acquisition: the complexity of the assignment system, the quality of the cues, and the interrelations with other features. As we saw above, gender assignment rules can be semantic or formal in nature section 2.

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Mulford, Comrie reports that children in the Bantu language Isangu overgeneralize gender both ways: in favor of more regular form patterns as well as more regular semantics. Aside from their type, an important difference between assignment rules is their reliability. While some rules may be categorical, others have a mere stochastic value. Various studies show that more reliable rules are acquired earlier. On the other hand, straightforward assignment rules do not necessarily result in an easy-to-acquire gender system. While English has particularly clear assignment rules, English children are comparatively slow in mastering the system Corbett, , p.

One of the reasons is the amount of syntactic evidence available to the child, which is low in a pronominal gender language like English.

Hence, clearer and richer agreement systems can be expected to be beneficial for learning Audring, A complicating factor in many languages is the crosscutting of gender with other features, mainly number and case. This results in a more complex task for the child, as the various functions need to be figured out simultaneously. Besides, more dimensions of orthogonal features can make for more complex patterns of syncretism, which lower the validity of each form as a cue to the learner. In view of the complexity of the task, first language acquisition of gender proceeds remarkably smoothly.

This fact stands in stark contrast to the acquisition of gender in adults. As is widely known, gender is notoriously difficult to master in a second language, especially for adult learners see, e. This fact has been linked to the critical period hypothesis, which assumes maturational constraints on certain grammatical features. Several questions follow:. This suggests that early—but not late—L2 gender acquisition may be native-like. The second question addresses the issue of transfer from the first to the second language.

Various studies, e. Herschensohn and Hopp , take transfer rather than age to be the major cause of delayed or unsuccessful gender acquisition. Broadly speaking, transfer effects can be positive or negative. On the positive side, an L1 that already has a gender system can prepare the ground for gender in the L2. Especially helpful might be a first language that is similar to the second. On the negative side, transfer can be in the way of successful second-language acquisition if learners attempt to process a second in terms of the first, arriving at the wrong results where the systems differ.

The last question, in turn, inquires about ultimate attainment—can L2 learners learn gender to a native-like degree? In the literature, this question has been approached from two sides: behaviorally and neurolinguistically. However, these errors seem to be associated with gender assignment rather than gender agreement, especially under experimental time pressure Hopp, This suggests that the central issue is not the inability to acquire the grammar of gender, but rather the amount of experience with the L2 that allows the learner to find out and store the gender of every noun.

Recently, the behavioral results have been complemented by electrophysiological data. Do non-native speakers show the same response? Results differ. This matches earlier findings, but contrasts with others see Meulman et al. One of the explanations suggested is that native-like electrophysiological responses only appear in the latest stages of proficiency, beyond the point where language tests indicate full mastery. Across studies, the general outcome is positive: even if grammatical gender is a hard feature to acquire as an adult learner, native-like proficiency can be attained.

One of the main reasons is the widespread uncertainty about its function. While number, person and tense have clear semantic correlates, gender information seems to contribute little to the semantics of an utterance. Defenders of functionality have stressed the fact that gender can help to keep track of referents across a stretch of discourse Heath, ; Lyons, , p. On a critical note, this effect is often overrated in languages that only have two or three genders—the disambiguating power of gender will only be convincing in languages with a larger number of gender values.

Another major issue has been the regularity of gender.

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With a research tradition focusing on Indo-European, especially French and German, some of the 20th century literature pessimistically claims that gender assignment is arbitrary. In reaction, a variety of studies have appeared attempting to prove that gender assignment is actually regular and predictable. Since then, the issue has come to appear in a different light by the availability of a broader range of cross-linguistic data mainly thanks to Corbett, Once the biasing focus on Indo-European is overcome, it turns out that many languages have gender assignment systems that are in fact quite regular.

A related issue is the way gender is transferred or assigned in borrowing and contact; an extensive literature is available, especially on English loanwords see Corbett, , pp. While the focus on English makes good sense—first, because English loans are copious in many languages; second, because a genderless source language helps to control the number of factors to consider—it is doubtful how deeply we understand the mechanisms, especially since many of the borrowing languages investigated have highly complex assignment systems.

Gender is also a much-discussed subject in psycholinguistics, though predominantly in language acquisition research see section 4. Recently, however, research efforts have turned to gender in processing and production, particularly in relation to models of the mental lexicon, the principles of lexical access, and the processing of grammatical information.

A disadvantage is the scarcity of links between experimental and typological studies, though attempts are made to bridge the gap e. Finally, a new line of typological research is currently emerging that investigates the interaction of gender with classifier systems in languages that have both see the project page of the Surrey Morphology Group, Guildford, U. In Oxford Bibliographies: Linguistics.

This is an annotated online bibliography of the literature on gender. Aikhenvald, A. Cambridge, U. A typological textbook that focuses on classifiers but also discusses gender. Find this resource:. Blom, E. The acquisition of grammatical gender in Dutch [Special issue].

Second Language Research , 24 3. On the acquisition of gender mainly about Dutch, but of broader interest. Corbett, G. The best source on grammatical gender—both a fascinating and readable introduction and an encyclopedic resource for advanced researchers. Gender and noun classes. In: T. Shopen Ed. For readers looking for a shorter account than the monograph. The Expression of Gender. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.

A recent collection of articles on gender, from various perspectives. Craig, C. Noun classes and categorization: Proceedings of a symposium on categorization and noun classification, Eugene, Oregon, October Philadelphia: John Benjamins. A compilation of presentations of a symposium on Categorization and Noun Classification, held at the University of Oregon in October Enger, H. The grammar of gender [Special issue]. Lingua , 9. A special issue devoted to theoretical issues mainly work by Scandinavian linguists.

Friederici, A. Processing of grammatical gender [Special issue]. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research , 28 5—6. On gender in language processing. Senft, G. Systems of nominal classification.

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Unterbeck, B. Gender in grammar and cognition. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. This is a useful two-part volume of papers addressing gender theoretically as well as descriptively. Bilingualism: Language and cognition , 14 , — Andersson, A. Doctoral dissertation. Arnott, D. The nominal and verbal systems of Fula. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Aronoff, M.

What is gender data?

Noun classes in Arapesh, In: G. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer. Morphology by itself: Stems and inflectional classes. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. Audring, J. Reinventing pronoun gender. Gender as a complex feature. Language Sciences , 43 , 5— Baetens Beardsmore, H. A gender problem in a language contact situation.

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Lingua , 27 , — Bakker, P. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bartning, I. Gender agreement in L2 French: Pre-advanced vs. Studia Linguistica , 54 , — Bates, E. Gender priming in Italian. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics , 58 7 , — Bennis, H. On the status of agreement and relative clauses in West-Flemish. In: W. Putseys Eds. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Foris. Bentley, M. Munich: Lincom Europa. Berg, T. Prelexical and postlexical features in language production. Applied Psycholinguistics , 13 , — Bittner, D. Gender classification and the inflectional system of German nouns.

In: B. Rissanen Eds. The acquisition of grammatical gender in Dutch. Second Language Research , 24 3 , — Effects of age on the acquisition of agreement inflection. Morphology , 16 , — Articles, adjectives, and age of onset: The acquisition of Dutch grammatical gender. Breedveld, J.

Bruhn de Garavito, J. L2 acquisition of Spanish DPs: The status of grammatical features. In: S. Howell, S. Keith-Lucas Eds. Somerville, MA: Cascadila. Byun, K. Classifiers and gender in sign language—the case of Korean Sign Language. Carroll, S. Second-language acquisition and the computational paradigm.

Language Learning 39 , — Carstensen, B. Viereck Ed. Chumakina, M. Gender-number marking in Archi: Small is complex, In: M. Baerman, D. Corbett Eds. Claudi, U. Mit einer Bibliographie und einer Karte. Hamburg, Germany: Buske. Comrie, B. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research , 28 5 , — Contini-Morava, E. Number of Genders. In: M. Haspelmath Eds. Sex-based and Non-sex-based Gender Systems. Systems of Gender Assignment. Gender typology.

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In: G. Corbett Ed. Gender and number in Bayso. Lingua , 72 , — Canonical Gender , Journal of Linguistics. Cornips, L. Factors of success and failure in the acquisition of grammatical gender in Dutch. Classifiers in a Functional Perspective , In: M. Fortescue, P. Kristoffersen Eds. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Curzan, A. Gender shifts in the history of English. The growth and maintenance of linguistic complexity. De Vogelaer, G. When typological rara generate rarissima: Analogical extension of verbal agreement in Dutch dialects. In: J. Cysouw Eds. Deen, K. The Acquisition of Swahili. Demuth, K. The acquisition of Bantu languages.

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In: D. Philippson Eds. Surrey, U. Niger-Congo noun class and agreement systems in language acquisition and historical change. In: C. Craig Ed. Dewaele, J. Gender assignment and gender agreement in advanced French interlanguage: A cross-sectional study. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition , 4 , — Di Garbo, F. Gender and its interaction with number and evaluative morphology. But Mr. Sokolowski added that languages change all the time, and objections to those transmutations — however loud they may be in the moment — are eventually forgotten.

Garner challenged that comparison. The tension over whether dictionaries are reflective or prescriptive erupted in a different way across the Atlantic, with a petition questioning whether, or when, historic terms should be stricken from the record. But she has focused her ire on another major dictionary: the Oxford Dictionary of English. Her petition has lately begun to pick up steam because of news media exposure, she said. As of Thursday morning, about 30, people had signed it. Reached for comment, a spokeswoman for Oxford University Press referred to a blog post by Katherine Connor Martin, the head of lexical content strategy.