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Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association

Editor-in-Chief: Stefanowitsch, Anatol / Schoenefeld, Doris

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Key is a llave is a Schlüssel: A failure to replicate an experiment from Boroditsky et al. 2003

Anne Mickan / Maren Schiefke / Anatol Stefanowitsch
Published Online: 2014-12-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/gcla-2014-0004


In this paper, we present two attempts to replicate a widely-cited but never fully published experiment in which German and Spanish speakers were asked to associate adjectives with nouns of masculine and feminine grammatical gender (Boroditsky et al. 2003). The researchers claim that speakers associated more stereotypically female adjectives with grammatically feminine nouns and more stereotypically male adjectives with grammatically masculine nouns. We were not able to replicate the results either in a word association task or in an analogous primed lexical decision task. This suggests that the results of the original experiment were either an artifact of some non-documented aspect of the experimental procedure or a statistical fluke. The question whether speakers assign sex-based interpretations to grammatical gender categories at all cannot be answered definitively, as the results in the published literature vary considerably. However, our experiments show that if such an effect exists, it is not strong enough to be measured indirectly via the priming of adjectives by nouns.

Keywords : sex; grammatical gender; object conceptualization; linguistic relativity; psycholinguistics

About the article

Published Online: 2014-12-16

Published in Print: 2014-11-01

Citation Information: Yearbook of the German Cognitive Linguistics Association, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 39–50, ISSN (Online) 2197-2796, ISSN (Print) 2197-2788, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/gcla-2014-0004.

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