DOI: 10.1044/2023_jslhr-23-00100 ISSN:

The Development of Predictive Gender Processing Strategies During Noun Phrase Decoding: An Eye-Tracking Study With German 5- to 10-Year-Old Children

Thomas Günther, Annika Kirschenkern, Axel Mayer, Frederike Steinke, Jürgen Cholewa
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Language and Linguistics


Many models of language comprehension assume that listeners predict the continuation of an incoming linguistic stimulus immediately after its onset, based on only partial linguistic and contextual information. Their related developmental models try to determine which cues (e.g., semantic or morphosyntactic) trigger such prediction, and to which extent, during different periods of language acquisition. One morphosyntactic cue utilized predictively in many languages, inter alia German, is grammatical gender. However, studies of the developmental trajectories of the acquisition of predictive gender processing in German remain a few.


This study attempts to shed light on such processing strategies used in noun phrase decoding among children acquiring German as their first language by examining their eye movements during a language–picture matching task ( N = 78, 5–10 years old). Its aim was to confirm whether the eye movements indicated the presence of age-specific differences in the processing of a gender cue, provided either in isolation or in combination with a semantic cue.


The results revealed that German children made use of predictive gender processing strategies from the age of 5 years onward; however, the pace of online gender processing, as well as confidence in the predicted continuation, increased up to the age of 10 years.


Predictive processing of gender cues plays a role in German language comprehension even in children younger than 8 years.

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