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Book Chapter

Gender-mismatching pronouns in context: The interpretation of possessive pronouns in Dutch and Limburgian


Redl,  Theresa
Center for Language Studies , External Organizations;
Other Research, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Piepers, J., & Redl, T. (2018). Gender-mismatching pronouns in context: The interpretation of possessive pronouns in Dutch and Limburgian. In B. Le Bruyn, & J. Berns (Eds.), Linguistics in the Netherlands 2018 (pp. 97-110). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0002-8EFF-0
Gender-(mis)matching pronouns have been studied extensively in experiments. However, a phenomenon common to various languages has thus far been overlooked: the systemic use of non-feminine pronouns when referring to female individuals. The present study is the first to provide experimental insights into the interpretation of such a pronoun: Limburgian zien ‘his/its’ and Dutch zijn ‘his/its’ are grammatically ambiguous between masculine and neuter, but while Limburgian zien can refer to women, the Dutch equivalent zijn cannot. Employing an acceptability judgment task, we presented speakers of Limburgian (N = 51) with recordings of sentences in Limburgian featuring zien, and speakers of Dutch (N = 52) with Dutch translations of these sentences featuring zijn. All sentences featured a potential male or female antecedent embedded in a stereotypically male or female context. We found that ratings were higher for sentences in which the pronoun could refer back to the antecedent. For Limburgians, this extended to sentences mentioning female individuals. Context further modulated sentence appreciation. Possible mechanisms regarding the interpretation of zien as coreferential with a female individual will be discussed.