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Predictability in French gender attribution: A corpus analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2006

ROY LYSTER
Affiliation:
McGill University, 3700 McTavish Street, Montreal, QC Canada H3A IY2 e-mail: roy.lyster@mcgill.ca

Abstract

This article presents a corpus analysis designed to determine the extent to which noun endings in French are reliable predictors of grammatical gender. A corpus of 9,961 nouns appearing in Le Robert Junior Illustré was analysed according to noun endings, which were operationalised as orthographic representations of rhymes, which consist of either a vowel sound (i.e., a nucleus) in the case of vocalic endings or a vowel-plus-consonant blend (i.e., a nucleus and a coda) in the case of consonantal endings. The analysis classified noun endings as reliably masculine, reliably feminine, or ambiguous, by considering as reliable predictors of grammatical gender any noun ending that predicts the gender of least 90 per cent of all nouns in the corpus with that ending. Results reveal that 81 per cent of all feminine nouns and 80 per cent of all masculine nouns in the corpus are rule governed, having endings that systematically predict their gender. These findings, at odds with traditional grammars, are discussed in terms of their pedagogical implications.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
2006 Cambridge University Press

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Footnotes

This research was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (nos. 410-98-0175 and 410-2002-0988). A version of this study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Portland, Oregon, on May 3, 2004. I gratefully acknowledge Susan Ballinger and Michel Gagnon for their contributions as Research Assistants, and Walcir Cardoso, Murray Munro, Hubert Séguin and JFLS reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions. Correspondence concerning this article should be emailed to the author at roy.lyster@mcgill.ca.
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