Hannah Kirsch: Gender Cues and Nonbinary They


Hello everyone! My name is Hannah Kirsch and my pronouns are she/her/hers. I am a rising senior in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. I am a psychology major with linguistics and Spanish minors.

About me: I am from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Outside of school, I enjoy cooking and crocheting. A fun fact about me is that I have been riding horses for over a decade and am currently part of Pitt’s Equestrian Team!

After I graduate from Pitt, I plan to attend graduate school to focus on psycholinguistic research. I am certain that my experiences in the Brackenridge program will provide me with the confidence and knowledge to provide meaningful contributions to the field and fulfill my future research endeavors.

My project: Effect of Conflicting Gender Cues on the Cognitive Availability of Singular They

My research project aims to understand how gender cues such as name and appearance affect the interpretation and production of nonbinary they. Historically, they has been used as a plural to refer to multiple people or singularly to a person whose gender is unknown, irrelevant, or intentionally hidden. Nonbinary they, or the use of they as a preferred pronoun to refer to one specific person whose gender identity is known represents a unique and recent linguistic change, which opens a virtually untouched window of opportunity for research. Because of this, nonbinary they attracts academic interest from cognitive, social, and linguistic perspectives. Nonbinary they is also highly socially relevant and attracts the interest of various groups of people within the general public due to a widespread cultural debate about the difficulty of using they to describe one specific person.

This study will be one of the first to investigate nonbinary they, and because of this, will be a groundbreaking contribution to the field of psycholinguistics. Additionally, this study will support the increasing number of people who go by they/them pronouns by setting the stage for future research that focuses on how to make comprehension and production of nonbinary they easier.

My project will aim to achieve the following:

  1. Identify how gender cues (name and appearance) affect the interpretation and production of nonbinary they.
  2. Identify conditions in which gender cues make the interpretation and production of nonbinary they more and less difficult.

The study will accomplish these goals by measuring the rates at which participants interpret and produce nonbinary they for three different conditions that contain characters with varying degrees of gender cue conflict.

My project will be done with the support of my amazing faculty mentor, Dr. Tessa Warren, from the Psychology Department.

I am honored to be a Brackenridge fellow this summer and am excited to share how my project develops during the course of the fellowship. Thank you for reading!

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