New Study: Kids Show Cultural Gender Bias

Here is an excerpt from an article about a recent study conducted by University of Alberta researchers Elena Nicoladis and Cassandra Foursha-Stevenson. The purpose of the study was to find out whether bilingual French/English children assigned gender to objects differently than monolingual children. (They did, but not quite how you might imagine. Strange!)

The researchers showed objects or images to the children participating in the study and asked them whether the objects seemed to be masculine or feminine in nature. While the unilingual children seemed to identify most objects as masculine, many younger bilingual children were willing to consider that, globally speaking, some objects could be feminine in nature even though, Nicoladis says, “their categorizations didn’t correspond very well to whether the objects were masculine or feminine in French.”

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My hypothesis before conducting the research would have been that bilingual children would identify more objects as being feminine, but that it would correspond to the object’s pronoun in their second language, so I’m surprised that it didn’t quite turn out that way.

I know that my husband Carlos definitely uses feminine pronouns in funny ways in English. While chasing a housefly he might say, “She’s too fast!” because “fly” (“mosca”) is a feminine word in Spanish.

I hope they repeat the research with English/Spanish bilinguals to see if there’s a difference.


  1. What do I think about that study? I think he is very interesting.

    I always have fun talking with non-Spanish speakers about the gender of objects and even abstract concepts in the language.

    And the Spanish language: He is awesome.

  2. I remember when I was learning French as a kid and making that shift in my head about thinking whether or not things were masculine or feminine.

  3. Masculine and feminine nouns in French are sometimes different in Spanish, which can be confusing and lead to the question: why? Funny that one culture see an object as feminine and another as masculine!

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