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Extra resources for British Pronoun Use, Prescription, and Processing: Linguistic and Social Influences Affecting ‘They’ and ‘He’

Example text

The electrician), feminine stereotyped (the babysitter) or neutral roles (such as the psychology student) and either a matched or mismatched pronoun. ’s results showed that sentences including gender-stereotyped roles with mismatched pronouns (the footballer ... she for example) were read more slowly than sentences where the gender of the pronoun matched the stereotypical gender of the social role. This led Carreiras et al. to conclude that ‘we know from the mismatch condition that stereotype information is activated when the pronoun is read’ (1996: 646).

Weidmann argued that the pronoun allowed the speaker to express ‘uncertainty about the presence’ of any such passenger (1984: 65). Indeed, Newman (1998: 369) uses Weidmann’s example with his claim that ‘singular they cannot be accounted for only through appeals to plural notional number and sex-indefiniteness’. However, Weidmann’s use of singular they is a manipulation of its singular epicene form, which cannot be directly contrasted with generic he as it is performing a different function. In the Barbara Wassman example, singular they still coindexes with the indefinite singular NP, independent from its contribution to the semantics of uncertainty in the sentence.

However, Baron (1986: 191) notes that this apparent (semantic) gender violation is Exploring Epicene Pronouns in History 35 ‘either ignored, or rationalized’ in traditional grammar (and beyond) by the claim that the masculine form includes the feminine (see Chapter 3). Clearly though, the evidence from the studies suggests that pronoun choice plays a semantic role in sentence comprehension. Crawford and Chaffin (1986) note that the semantic value of generic he initially decreases the number of possible referents of a pronoun because of its predominant maleness: When both men and women read the word he, a male interpretation (the default value) initially predominates.

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