Research Seminars

Research seminars

Processing human gender and grammatical gender in coreference

Lauren Ackerman (Newcastle University)

What knowledge is accessed and checked during gendered coreference dependency formation? English encodes some kind of information about gender in pronouns and names, and coreference dependency formation relies on antecedent gender of “matching" that of the anaphor. However, human gender is not binary, and nonconforming genders are increasing in visibility. I investigate whether nonstandard coreference dependencies are processed differentially across the population. I find higher acceptability of these dependencies among people with regular contact with transgender/nonbinary communities, particularly younger speakers. This suggests experience with gender variation influences speakers’ mental representations of gender and these nuanced representations are what is accessed during gendered coreference dependency formation. Based on this, I speculate how gender might be encoded in a way that unites general cognitive processing of human gender with formal syntactic theories.