On the nature of phonological cues in the acquisition of French gender categories: Evidence from instance-based learning models

Clive Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


A crucial element in acquiring a language involves partitioning its words into different grammatical categories. Although fundamentally the determination of grammatical gender in a language such as French is based on recognising certain distributional patterns, a noun's phonological ending has also been implicated as providing an important additional cue as to an unknown noun's gender value. Not only does the literature which explores this possibility rarely make precise the notion of “final sounds” but also those that are referred to appear not to be consonant with either phonological or psycholinguistic theory. This paper explores the suitability of the final syllable as a reliable cue. The issue is investigated through an instance-based machine learning model, in part because it more closely fits with psycholinguistic assumptions of gender processing. The results of the simulations show that not only does the final syllable prove a reliable indicator but that it is, in fact, more reliable than most other sequences. The paper, however, remains agnostic as to the exact role of analogising in either gender acquisition or gender processing. Tentative suggestions are made that gender attribution may require a dual mechanism account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-900
Number of pages22
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010

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