Linguistics experiment

This is a little experiment I’ll be doing for my bilingualism class next week which I thought I’d try out on you first.

Imagine you’re making a cartoon featuring the things listed below as characters. Which ones would you assign a male voice to, and which ones would you assign a female voice to?

1. A rock 2. A tree 3. A river 4. A bear 5. A salmon 6. A boat

Could you also tell us your native language, and whether you speak any other languages fluently? If you do speak other languages, when did you acquire them, do you use them regularly, and would you consider yourself bilingual or multilingual?

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This entry was posted in Bilingualism, Language, Linguistics.

61 Responses to Linguistics experiment

  1. xarxa says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. female
    4. male
    5. male
    6. female

    my first language is english, but im half egyptian and lived in egypt for a long time, and i have a fair grasp of arabic, and also of spanish, which i learnt in school. ive studied other languages (japanese and portuguese), but not to a degree anywhere near fluency.

  2. Nikki says:

    It’s quite hard for me to decide without any pictures…

    I would say male for 1 and 4, female for 5… depends on the size for 2 and 3 (big = male, small = female) and depends on the colour for 6 (pink is definitely female, but most colours would be male)

    Oh, and I speak English. I’m not fluent in any other languages, but I’m fairly good at German.

  3. JRice says:

    Boy, you’ve just made me feel misogynistic. : )

    I’m a native American English speaker. I majored in Linguistics in college, and speak a smattering of German; I’ve started to learn Hindi and Japanese, but very slowly and presently have no skills to speak of.

    I would make them all male except the boat.

    That said, the bear and the salmon could be female without any cognitive dissonance, but male was my instinct.

  4. Zachary says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. female
    4. female
    5. male
    6. male

    Those would be my choices, basically all male except the river and the bear. I’m bilingual, so my native tongues are French and English, and I regularly use both everyday (only French for education though). Although I can also speak Japanese and Spanish, but not at a fluent level.

  5. harris e. says:

    1. Male
    2. Female
    3. Female
    4. Male
    5. Female
    6. Male

    Speak English and Yiddish. Also some german and a little hebrew.

  6. Sarah says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – female
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – male

    (I wish I knew why I think of the bear as female. I’m sure there’s some deep psychological reason.)

    I’m English-Irish (there doesn’t seem a better way to put it than that, and I identify myself strongly with both sides of my heritage, so…). I wouldn’t consider myself bilingual or multilingual, though I speak some Welsh and French, a little Spanish, and know a tiny amount of German, Italian and Greek. I’m not fluent in any language except English.

  7. anònim says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. male
    4. male
    5. male
    6. female

    I’m a Catalan-Spanish bilingual. I also use English regularly, and know a little German.

  8. Peter says:

    My first instinct is to assign a male voice to all of them. I speak English natively, I’m learning Spanish and I took German in high school, though I’m no where near fluent with either.

  9. John says:

    I’d put a male voice to all of them.
    I’m an English native speaker, and I also speak French.
    I’m currently also taking Japanese.

  10. Leitbulb says:

    1. Male
    2. Male
    3. Female (or if it is gushing, Male)
    4. Male
    5. Male
    6. Male

    I am a native English speaker. I would not consider myself bilingual.

  11. Luke Gedeon says:

    1. male
    2. both
    3. male
    4. female
    5. female
    6. female

    Native English. Studied French, Greek, German, Latin, Chinese, Spanish, but not close to fluent in any.

  12. Ewelina says:

    Native Polish, fluent English, studied German, Italien, Welsh
    Bilingual
    1. A rock – 60% male 40% female ;)
    2. A tree – 60% male 40% female ;)
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon -male
    6. A boat – 60% male 40% female ;)

    ps It is hard not to be influenced by the images already seen in the cartoons.

  13. Kristin says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – female
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – either
    5. A salmon – either
    6. A boat – female

    1st language: English
    2nd language: French (also spoken at home by mother and grandmother)
    other languages studied: Latin, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, German, Greek (Greek currently spoken at home by husband – once he insisted, speaking to me in his sleep, that the Greek he was speaking was English)

  14. Voytec says:

    1. A rock – female
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – female

    My 1st language is Polish and 2nd English.

  15. Ben Bobls says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – female
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – male

    I am native English and my 2nd language is American Sign Language. With a little bit of Mandarin, Russian (spoken and sign), Hebrew (spoken and sign) and Korean Sign Language thrown in.

  16. Nadia says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – female
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – female

    My first language is English, but I speak French and Urdu fluently, read and understand (and speak but very badly) Punjabi, and can understand some Saraiki, Persian, Pashto, Italian and Spanish. I learnt all three of my main languages simultaneously, but reserve French and Urdu for specific family members and friends.
    I identify myself as either trilingual or multilingual, depending on who’s asking and why.

  17. Polly says:

    WARNING, Less than helpful:

    To be perfectly honest, only the *BEAR* struck me as having gender: female. That’s probably because of the typical warning about getting between a female bear and her cubs.

    I’m a native English-speaker.

    I’d have to force myself to think up genders for the other things and I’d be likely to change my answers at different times.

    Letters and numbers, OTOH, have pretty clear gender for me. If you want to know…

    A (F) B (M) C (M) D (M) E (M) F (M) G (M) H (M) I (M) J (F) K (M) L (M)
    M (M) N (M) O (M) P (F) Q (M) R (F) S (M) T (M) U (M) V (F) W (M) X (F) Y (F) Z (M)

    numbers:
    1M 2F 3M 4M 5M 6F 7M 8F 9F 10M 11M 12F 13M 14M 15M 16F…

    No idea where the gender associations came from.

  18. Lev says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. male
    4. male
    5. female
    6. female

    My native language is Russian, I also speak Hebrew fluently, and I use them both daily. I’ve been living in Israel since the age of 13. My English is pretty good, too. I don’t actually speak it usually, but all my professional writing, mail, etc. is in English, and I also surf in English a lot. I’ve lived in the US at the age of 11.

  19. koichi says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – female
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – female

    I hope a psychiatrist doesn’t take a look at these…

  20. garance says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. female
    4. male
    5. male
    6. female
    Native French, English-Flemish second language. Got the boat female, I guess, because I worked on boats with many British people for many years.
    I read about 15 languages, I am not fluent in anything, even French! I am not a talker.
    The most beautiful talk about gender is still in George Lakoff’s “Women, fire and dangerous things. What categories reveal about the mind”. It contains a discussion about a dying language of Australia: Dyirbal, whereby anything dangerous is related to women and falls in a female category.

  21. Jouni says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. female
    4. male
    5. female
    6. male

    Native Finnish, fluent English in daily use but no, don’t consider myself as a bi/multilingual.

  22. Ray says:

    1. A rock 2. A tree 3. A river 4. A bear 5. A salmon 6. A boat

    1 male
    2 female
    3 male
    4 male
    5 male
    6 female

    Native english, fluent in portuguese I picked up last year living in Brazil. I have a firm grip on Spanish. I consider myself multilingual. I don’t get to speak Portuguese regularly, but I read, listen, and write in it. I sometimes have opportunities to speak Spanish outside the classroom.

  23. dmh says:

    My gut reaction before looking at any of the replies:
    Rock – Male
    Tree – Female
    River – Female
    Bear – Male
    Salmon – Female
    Boat – Male

    My stats:
    Native English speaker.
    I feel like I know these languages the best and wouldn’t feel too uneasy if I I were in a situation where I had to speak them:
    Russian, Chinese, French, Spanish, Italian, Esperanto
    These not quite as well: German, Ukrainian
    I still have a ways to go but I know the main grammar and have a growing vocabulary: Persian
    Also studied some Latin and a little Japanese.

    I’ve lived in these countries:
    USA – 20 odd years.
    China – 20 months
    Ukraine – 2 years and 8 months

  24. TJ says:

    1. m
    2. f
    3. m
    4. m
    5. m
    6. m

    but in Arabic language (away from imagination of course), the gender of these words would be:
    1. f
    2. f
    3. m
    4. m
    5. m
    6. m

  25. BG says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – female
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – can’t decide
    6. A boat – female

    I only really speak English fluently, but I think German and Latin (my best two other languages) have a significant influence.

    I can explain most of my choices through these languages (this might be too much info):
    1. In German der Stein (rock) is masculine
    2. All trees are feminine in Latin, even if they should be masculine based of endings.
    3. These words are masculine in German (der Fluss), and in Latin fluctus is masculine and flumen is neuter, but I just thought of river nymphs, I think.
    4. This word is masculine in German (der Bär), in Ancient Greek (ἀρκτος / arktos), and can be feminine or masculine in Latin (ursa or ursus).
    5. I just can’t pick one over the other.
    6. This was because in English vehicles (especially boats) are traditionally referred to as she.

  26. Patty says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – female
    3. A river – male
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – male

    though in my native language (spanish) rock is female and the others are male

  27. quaren says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – male
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – male

    Native English / Italian speaker…. learned Spanish and Japanese, also studied Latin.

  28. Jan says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – female

    As I think about it, it copies genders in my native language (even though I ended up making up salmon’s gender without immediatelly knowing the exact translation only thinking about it as of “some sort of fish” and “fish” is “she” in Czech). Even though I can’t think of better gender for boat than female, even English still uses “she” to address ships…

    I’m Czech and Slovak native speaker. I have been studying German and Russian, now studying Chinese (not fluent in these three). I consider myself pretty able to commuicate in English.

  29. Jim Morrison says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – male
    6. A boat – male

    I am native English and speak French, Catalan and German all reasonably well, but none of them fluently.
    Jim

  30. Cakra says:

    1. M
    2. M
    3. F
    4. M
    5. ?
    6. F

    Salmon is not a native fish. So it’s difficult to make dicision. For salmon as a fish, I think of a strong fish and want to assign a male voice to. But for salmon as a food, it always comes with its roe and a female voice should be assigned to it.

    My native tongue is Thai, which does not have grammatical gender. I also speak English and Russian. And I learned German in high school. I can speak English quite well, Russian not so well, and German not at all. I don’t call myslef bilingual.

    Some word above in Thai shows its gender. River in Thai is ‘mae-nam’ (แม่น้ำ), which literally means ‘mother of water’ (mae mean mother and nam means water). Tree in Thai is ‘tonmai’ (ต้นไม้). ‘Ton’ can be a name for boy. So I assign a male voice.

  31. Peter J. Franke says:

    1. rock: male;
    2. tree: depends: some, like palm trees, red bukes and willows are female but f.i. oaks, kankan trees (huge Amazon jungle trees) , waringins (bodhi) I experience as masculin;
    3. river: female;
    4. bear: male;
    5. salmon: male;
    6. boat: male, but a canoo: female. Some swallow sailing boats: female.

  32. nomaderaleur says:

    1. F
    2. M
    3. F
    4. M
    5. M
    6. M

    I’m a French native speaker, and speak fluent English and Spanish. I also have notions of Catalan, dutch, German and Japanese. And I’m a translator.

  33. prase says:

    rock m
    tree m/f (depends on the type of tree)
    river f
    bear m
    salmon m/f (this is quite ambiguous)
    boat f

    Native language is Czech. If it matters, in Czech the genders are
    rock f
    tree m
    river f
    bear basically m, but derived f form also exists
    salmon m
    boat f.

    Not bilingual.

  34. jn says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – female
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – either or..
    5. A salmon – ?
    6. A boat – male

    native english speaker (american), studying russian.

  35. Polo says:

    With cartoons in general, any animated object is male by default unless it has a specifically feminine attribute… in English American cartoons, anyway.

  36. Sennin says:

    1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male
    3. A river – female
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – no idea, I guess neuter
    6. A boat – male generally, but I’m not sure any more…

    My native language is Bulgarian. I also speak English and study French.

  37. Simon says:

    Many thanks for all your comments. The aim of the experiment was to see whether those of you with grammatical gender in your native languages chose the voices according to the genders of the words in your languages.

    Studies have found that speakers of languages with grammatical gender will often be guided by the genders when assigning voices to inanimate objects or judging their masculinity/femininity. Such effects are more noticeable in speakers of languages with two genders – speakers of three-gender languages, such as German, don’t necessarily follow the gender patterns of their languages.

    Speakers of English and other languages that lack grammatical gender often assign female voices / feminine characteristics to natural objects, and male ones to artificial objects.

  38. Helena says:

    1-Male
    2- Female
    3-Male
    4-Female
    5-Male
    6-Male

    My native language is European Portuguese, and I speak fluent English, Spanish, German and French.

    I am not bilingual nor multilingual.

  39. Jenny says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. female
    4. male
    5. female
    6. female

    Those were my instinctive first thoughts. Afterwards, I thought about making the tree have a female voice instead simply because it led me to thinking about Pocahontas.

    Native English speaker. Studied Mandarin, Spanish, and a little Arabic in college. I wouldn’t consider myself fluent in any besides English, though Mandarin would be my best foreign language.

    Good luck with your experiment.

  40. Sam says:

    1. Rock–Male
    2. Tree–Neuter/Male
    3. River–Neuter
    4. Bear–Male
    5. Salmon–Neuter
    6. Boat–Neuter

    Not very helpful, I know. ;)

    I speak only English, but I’m learning French (I just started).

  41. Ben says:

    1.M
    2.M
    3.F
    4.M
    5.F
    6.F

    Native Portuguese and English.

  42. Andreas says:

    1.male
    2.male
    3.female
    4.male
    5.female

    My native language is Indonesian, the other language which i speak fluently? It must be english. I have learnt it since it i was in my junior high school. I try to use it regularly. The other languages? Japanese. Just beginner level. I plan to test myself in yon-kyu, nihon-go noryokushiken (JLPT 4) this december. But, recently, Chinese has attracted me since olympiade in Beijing 4 months ago.

  43. 1. M
    2. F
    3. F
    4. M
    5. F
    6. F

    Native Welsh-speaker (but don’t know which gender these are in Welsh, well, not without thinking!)

  44. James P says:

    In english

    rock (male)
    tree (female)
    river (female)
    bear (male)
    salmon (male)
    boat (male)

    But I tried it in Spanish, and it´s not the same.

    Una roca (male)
    un árbol (male)
    un río (female)
    un oso (male)
    un salmón (female)
    un bote (male)

    english native speaker.

    Studied french (started age 9), latin (age 10), german (age 12), classical greek and hebrew at uni (both to PhD level, whatever that means)
    Fluent (C2+) Spanish (adult learner).
    Use Spanish more than English in my work and relationships.

  45. Nick says:

    They would all be male to me, off the top of my head without thinking about it.

    Native language is English/Italian and am fluent in Spanish

  46. Nick says:

    oh and I use Spanish and English daily, and Italian about once or twice a week. ITalian and English was spoken in my home from infancy, and Spanish I learned from grades 9 through university.
    I would consider myself multi-lingual

  47. Nicholas says:

    rock = m (hard object)
    tree = m (solid object)
    river = f (soft and flowing)
    bear = m (angry grizzly)
    salmon = f (actually I pictured a rainbow trout)
    boat = f (I pictured a small rowing boat on a lake)

    None of my associations are to do with the gramatical gender of a word in any langauge, more how rough or gentle they are.

    Native Mercian English speaker, learned French and Latin at school, currently have been working in Germany for 15 months. Know a logarithmically small and smaller amount of about 50 other spoken langauges, starting with Hungarian and Japanese.

  48. GeoffB says:

    1. male
    2. female
    3. female
    4. male
    5. male
    6. female

    Native language is English.
    Second language is French, though genders don’t track with it.

  49. Malic diNata says:

    1. male
    2. male
    3. female
    4. male
    5. male
    6. male
    Native language: Indonesian (Bahasa), Javanese
    Other Language:
    – fluent thai –> i spent 4 years during high school in BKK
    i still speak it regularly w/ my old mates
    – French –> used to be fluent but now I’m losing it…
    had learned it since I was 4 years old
    only use it for reading purposes…
    – very good Lao –> learned it when I was in high school..never
    use it anymore..
    – fluent english –> My mum is an english teacher. She spoke
    english with me even before I could speak. I
    use it everyday, perhaps even more than
    indonesian/javanese
    – basic arabic –> my dad used to teach me when I was 6
    years old. Never enjoy it tho…
    – basic spanish –> and is improving….
    Anyway, I consider myself to be multilingual…
    cheers!

  50. 1. A rock – male
    2. A tree – male / female (depends on size, etc)
    3. A river – male
    4. A bear – male
    5. A salmon – female
    6. A boat – male

    Actually, i would need some pictures.

    I speak Spanish and Galician. As for foreign languages, I am quite confident in English and French, less so with Italian and German.