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Lang Cogn Process. 2005 Aug 1;20(4):553-587. Epub 2007 Mar 6.

When zebras become painted donkeys: Grammatical gender and semantic priming interact during picture integration in a spoken Spanish sentence.

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  • 1University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA.


This study investigates the contribution of grammatical gender to integrating depicted nouns into sentences during on-line comprehension, and whether semantic congruity and gender agreement interact using two tasks: naming and semantic judgement of pictures. Native Spanish speakers comprehended spoken Spanish sentences with an embedded line drawing, which replaced a noun that either made sense or not with the preceding sentence context and either matched or mismatched the gender of the preceding article. In Experiment 1a (picture naming) slower naming times were found for gender mismatching pictures than matches, as well as for semantically incongruous pictures than congruous ones. In addition, the effects of gender agreement and semantic congruity interacted; specifically, pictures that were both semantically incongruous and gender mismatching were named slowest, but not as slow as if adding independent delays from both violations. Compared with a neutral baseline, with pictures embedded in simple command sentences like "Now please say ____", both facilitative and inhibitory effects were observed. Experiment 1b replicated these results with low-cloze gender-neutral sentences, more similar in structure and processing demands to the experimental sentences. In Experiment 2, participants judged a picture's semantic fit within a sentence by button-press; gender agreement and semantic congruity again interacted, with gender agreement having an effect on congruous but not incongruous pictures. Two distinct effects of gender are hypothesised: a "global" predictive effect (observed with and without overt noun production), and a "local" inhibitory effect (observed only with production of gender-discordant nouns).

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