Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 13 January 2011 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00244

Grammar in art

Edward Segel and Lera Boroditsky*
  • Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

Jakobson (1959) reports: “The Russian painter Repin was baffled as to why Sin had been depicted as a woman by German artists: he did not realize that ‘sin’ is feminine in German (die Sünde), but masculine in Russian (rpex).” Does the grammatical gender of nouns in an artist’s native language indeed predict the gender of personifications in art? In this paper we analyzed works in the ARTstor database (a digital art library containing over a million images) to measure this correspondence. This analysis provides a measure of artists’ real-world behavior. Our results show a clear correspondence between grammatical gender in language and personified gender in art. Grammatical gender predicted personified gender in 78% of the cases, significantly more often than if the two factors were independent. This analysis offers a new window on an age-old question about the relationship between linguistic structure and patterns in culture and cognition.

Keywords: language, thought, grammatical gender, art

Citation: Segel E and Boroditsky L (2011) Grammar in art. Front. Psychology 1:244. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00244

Received: 20 October 2010; Paper pending published: 08 November 2010;
Accepted: 24 December 2010; Published online: 13 January 2011.

Edited by:

Asifa Majid, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Andrea Bender, University of Freiburg, Germany
Dan Isaac Slobin, University of California Berkeley, USA

Copyright: © 2011 Segel and Boroditsky. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and the Frontiers Research Foundation, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Lera Boroditsky, Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall, Building 01-420, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, USA. e-mail: lera@psych.stanford.edu

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