The influence of grammatical gender and suffix transparency in processing Italian written nouns
In some languages the grammatical gender of nouns can be probabilistically detected using formal cues; for instance, in Italian, the majority of feminine nouns end in ‘-a’(e.g., casa, ‘home’) and the majority of masculine nouns end in ‘-o’ (e.g., albero, ‘tree’). It has been hypothesized that the match/mismatch between the formal information of the suffix and the abstract grammatical information on gender affects lexical processing of nouns. An alternative account is that a default option available for gender poses constraints to mechanisms of lexical access for words exhibiting gender markers in the surface form.
In the present study, nouns with highly predictive gender suffix (regular), nouns whose gender cannot be recovered from surface form (opaque) and nouns with misleading gender suffix (irregular) were compared in two reading aloud and two lexical decision experiments. Results confirmed that regular nouns are processed better than irregular nouns. No difference was detected between masculine and feminine opaque nouns.
The results allow the conclusion that a formal gender feature (the gender orthographic regularity) is more likely to affect lexical processing of bare nouns than the activation of a gender default option.
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