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Stereotype or grammar? The representation of gender when two-year-old and three-year-old French-speaking toddlers listen to role nouns*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2015

University of Fribourg, Switzerland
University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
University of Geneva, Switzerland
Address for correspondence: Arik Lévy, Département de Psychologie, University de Fribourg, Rue Faucigny 2, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland. e-mail:


Using a preferential looking paradigm, the current study examined the role that grammatical gender plays when preschool French-speaking toddlers process role nouns in the masculine form (e.g., chanteursmasculine ‘singers’). While being auditorily prompted with “Look at the ‘a role noun’!”, two- and three-year-olds were presented with two pictures of two characters (‘boy–boy’ versus ‘girl–boy’) with attributes of the given role noun (e.g., singers with microphone and music notes). All role nouns were presented in the masculine plural form, which, despite its use to refer to mixed-gender groups, can be interpreted as referring to men. We expected toddlers to be biased by stereotypes, yet when non-stereotypical role nouns were presented, toddlers were not influenced by grammatical gender, but by their own sex (even more so for three-year-old toddlers). The absence of sensitivity to grammatical cues for either age group is discussed in terms of the developmental awareness of grammatical gender.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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Special thanks to nursery referees and tenants, as well as all toddlers and their parents, for taking part in the study. We also thank Prof Billard for having lent us the head-mounted eye-tracker system. This research was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, (Project No 100014_135271).


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