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McNair Scholar 2017Catherine Richards

Catherine Richards is a rising senior at the University of Minnesota and pursuing a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in neuroscience. She plans to obtain a Ph.D. in psycholinguistics or cognitive science. Her research interests include language’s influence on cognition, language acquisition, word choice, and cross-linguistic differences.

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My dream is to contribute to the body of knowledge on the relativity hypothesis and examine the relation between language and cognition through a developmental lens.

Research project

Grammatical gender’s effect on inferences of biological sex in Spanish speakers

Abstract: Spanish grammatical gender categorizes all nouns as “feminine” or “masculine.” While the grammatical gender matches the sex of the referent for some nouns, for most nouns it does not. Animals fall into the category of generic animates, which have biological sex but it is not necessarily congruent with its Spanish grammatical gender. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether Spanish grammatical gender influences how Spanish speakers think about the biological sex of certain animals. Monolingual English speakers and bilingual Spanish-English speakers were asked to tell if neutral animal images contained the fictitious biological property of “GLACK”, which was present in only one gender of animal (e.g., Only females have “GLACK” inside.). Research is ongoing, but preliminary results from 12 participants are presented. Implications regarding the role of language in biological concepts are discussed. Download poster. [PDF]

Faculty profile

Dr. Maria Sera is a full professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Sera attended Indiana University for her Ph.D. in developmental psychology with a minor in linguistics. Her research focuses on language acquisition and how it relates to cognitive development, with her current projects focusing on the role of phonology and semantics in word learning and non-native speech production.