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Gender has been the focus of linguistic and psychological studies, but little is known about its conceptual representation. We investigate whether the conceptual structure of gender - as expressed in participants' free-listing responses - varies according to gender-related experiences in line with research on conceptual flexibility. Specifically, we tested groups that varied by gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender-normativity. We found that different people stressed distinct aspects of the concept. For example, normative individuals mainly relied on a bigenderist conception (e.g., male/female; man/woman), while non-normative individuals produced more aspects related to social context (e.g., queer, fluidity, construction). At a broader level, our results support the idea that gender is a multifaceted and flexible concept, constituted by social, biological, cultural, and linguistic components. Importantly, the meaning of gender is not exhausted by the classical dichotomy opposing sex, a biological fact, with gender as its cultural counterpart. Instead, both aspects are differentially salient depending on specific life experiences.

Original publication




Journal article


Language and Cognition

Publication Date





649 - 678