The Role of Grammatical Gender in Predictive Processing in Russian

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Previous studies have shown that adult and child native speakers can use grammatical gender cues to predict upcoming nouns in online sentence interpretation (e.g. Lew-Williams & Fernald, 2010; Brouwer et al., 2017). This type of research mostly focused on Roman and West-Germanic languages. In this study we looked at gender-marked adjectives in Russian. The aim was to examine whether adult and child native speakers of Russian of varying ages can use grammatically marked adjectives to predict the upcoming noun during sentence comprehension. In a looking-while-listening paradigm, participants heard simple questions and saw two pictures on the screen. One picture was the target and the other the distractor of either the same or different gender. Importantly, only when the target and distractor had the different gender the gender-marked adjective was informative. All questions had the same structure with two gender-marked adjectives followed by a noun. We hypothesised that participants would look more and faster at the target picture in the different-gender than the same-gender condition. More specifically, we examined whether they could use gender-marking anticipatorily (i.e. before the onset of the noun) or facilitatively (i.e. after the onset of the noun). We predicted that children’s anticipation ability would increase with age. Our results revealed that native Russian adults and children anticipated the upcoming noun. Moreover, the anticipation effect was stronger for the adult group than for the child group. Subsequent analyses on the child data suggested that age is involved in anticipation ability in children, but it seems not to be the only (defining) predictor. The results of our study extend and improve existing theoretical knowledge regarding the role of grammatical gender in online sentence processing.
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