[PS-3.34] Featurally underspecified forms are not treated as informative cues, even when they are sufficiently contrastive in the present context

Lundquist, B.

University of Tromsø

Many dialects of Norwegian have three distinct grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Gender information is mainly visible on indefinite and definite articles. Whereas the indefinite paradigm has unique exponents for the three genders, the definite paradigm only has a neuter article and an underspecified feminine/masculine article. In a cohort experiment in the visual world paradigm (Allopenna et al., 1998), we investigated the effect of underspecification for predictive processing. In the relevant part of the experiment, feminine nouns were excluded, and the masculine and neuter words were tested against each other, in definite and indefinite forms. We found that neuter indefinite and definite articles both triggered anticipatory looks to the target. However, only the masculine indefinite article, and not the definite article, triggered anticipatory looks. Crucially, in the present setting (i.e., in the present visual world), the indefinite and definite masculine articles were equally reliable predictors - they uniquely co-occurred with non-neuter targets (just as the neuter articles co-occurred with non-masculine targets). We suggest that due to its underspecifiaction, the masculine/feminine definite article does not facilitate the predictive processing of the subsequent noun. This suggests that abstract feature representations of gender markers must be immediately accessed during processing.