The sound of gender: inferring the gender of names in a foreign language

Zhenguang G. Cai*, Nan Zhao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Much research on sound symbolism has shown that some aspects of word meaning are linked to phonology. For instance, people tend perceive a name as a female one if it is longer, has stress on a later syllable, or ends with a vowel rather than a consonant. It is yet unclear whether people also use sound-symbolic cues to infer name gender from phonology in a language they do not speak. In three experiments, native speakers of English and German listened to real personal names in Min, a south China language that our participants had not been exposed to, and rated to what extent a name sounded male/female. Compared to real female names, real male names were rated more male-sounding by both English and German speakers in a consistent way. Further exploratory analysis showed that male names in Min, compared to female names, are more likely to have consonant-ending syllables and English- and German-speaking participants happened to make use of this sound-symbolic cue in gender judgement. These results show that people are able to make use of sound-symbolic cues to infer the gender of personal names even in a language they do not speak.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63–73
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cultural Cognitive Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019

User-Defined Keywords

  • Sound symbolism
  • Personal names
  • Gender
  • Phonology
  • Foreign language


Dive into the research topics of 'The sound of gender: inferring the gender of names in a foreign language'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this