Are second person masculine generics easier to process for men than for women? Evidence from Polish

Szuba, A., Redl, T., & De Hoop, H. (2022). Are second person masculine generics easier to process for men than for women? Evidence from Polish. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 51(4), 819-845. doi:10.1007/s10936-022-09859-7.
In Polish, it is obligatory to mark feminine or masculine grammatical gender on second-person singular past tense verbs (e.g., Dostałaś list ‘You received-F a letter’). When the addressee’s gender is unknown or unspecified, masculine but never feminine gender marking may be used. The present self-paced reading experiment aims to determine whether this practice creates a processing disadvantage for female addressees in such contexts. We further investigated how men process being addressed with feminine-marked verbs, which constitutes a pragmatic violation. To this end, we presented Polish native speakers with short narratives. Each narrative contained either a second-person singular past tense verb with masculine or feminine gender marking, or a gerund verb with no gender marking as a baseline. We hypothesised that both men and women would read the verbs with gender marking mismatching their own gender more slowly than the gender-unmarked gerund verbs. The results revealed that the gender-mismatching verbs were read equally fast as the gerund verbs, and that the verbs with gender marking matching participant gender were read faster. While the relatively high reading time of the gender-unmarked baseline was unexpected, the pattern of results nevertheless shows that verbs with masculine marking were more difficult to process for women compared to men, and vice versa. In conclusion, even though masculine gender marking in the second person is commonly used with a gender-unspecific intention, it created similar processing difficulties for women as the ones that men experienced when addressed through feminine gender marking. This study is the first one, as far as we are aware, to provide evidence for the male bias of second-person masculine generics during language processing.
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