Nouns and Gender – Update 2

Before reading this update, if you haven’t already read my previous posts talking about my research, please use this link to participate in my study! It will only take about 5 minutes and I greatly appreciate it!


Since my last update, I have completed the construction of the survey, built up my noun database, and gotten through most of the data collection process. The survey link was opened on July 16, and I have gotten an astonishing 136 responses so far. Since I haven’t gotten any new responses in over a week, I am planning on leaving the link open only until August 11, which will be the end of the month I purchased on SurveyMonkey. (Of course, if I get an influx of responses from the above link in the next few days, I may leave it open longer to maximize my data pool.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I was able to find 30 nouns with the same grammatical genders in Spanish, French, and German, with a 50/50 masculine/feminine split. My next step was to pick images to represent each of the nouns. I was a little surprised by how difficult it was to find free images that worked well for some of the nouns (especially ‘loom’ and ‘crosswalk’). I tried to avoid pictures that had any “built-in” masculine or feminine qualities, such as human faces or stereotypical colors/patterns (pinks, florals, etc.). This did make me hesitate about some of the nouns themselves – for example, I considered that many people might automatically label ‘lipstick’ as feminine because they associate makeup with women. Ultimately, my advisor and I decided that this would be something interesting to watch for, but not a problem.

The survey is split into a few different pages – consent form, instructions, nouns, and demographic questions. My advisor helped me make some edits to the original text of the instructions, which emphasized the importance of participants going with their gut and highlighted that we were looking for grammatical gender. This was in an effort to get participants thinking in the right direction without causing them to think about the gender systems in the other languages when they might not have on their own. The nouns are in a randomized order, and there’s never more than three same-gendered nouns in a row.  

Once I got the green light from my advisor, I posted the link on social media. I was very surprised by how many responses I got, and how quickly. As responses came in, I added the represented languages to my noun database. So far, I have complete entries for French/Spanish/German, Latin, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, Slovak, Swedish, Dutch, and Hindi, and I have partial entries for Arabic and Hebrew.  (I also have responses from speakers of Japanese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, and Malayalam, which are all languages without gendered nouns.)


Going forward, I have two main tasks I need to resolve to complete my analysis.

First, I need to figure out how exactly to sort respondents who have non-current experience with a language with gendered nouns. I have looked at a few papers about foreign language retention and begun talking to my advisor at how to deal with this issue. Most of the literature I read talks about foreign language retention in terms of months (ie summer breaks or semester gaps), but I’m not sure if a subconscious influence would be measured on the same time scale as performance on an exam. While I may decide to further break down recent speakers vs current speakers, my priority right now is to determine who I will be considering monolingual.

Second, I have to finish building my noun database. Due to my unexpectedly widespread data pool, this turned out to be a more significant task than I anticipated. Although it is certainly true that I have a wider variety of language (and noun-gender systems) than I was expecting, the vast majority of my respondents fall into either the French/Spanish/German or Monolingual w/o Noun Gender categories, as I anticipated. This means the other responses will be interesting to look at, but should not pose a barrier to completing the more straightforward aspect of my analysis.


In summary – I am currently finishing the preparation for my analysis (finalizing sorting parameters and noun database), which will begin as soon as the survey is closed.