Spoken words carry linguistic and indexical information to listeners. Abstractionist models of spoken word recognition suggest that indexical information is stripped away in a process called normalization to allow processing of the linguistic message to proceed. In contrast, exemplar models of the lexicon suggest that indexical information is retained in memory, and influences the process of spoken word recognition. In the present study native Spanish listeners heard Spanish words that varied in grammatical gender (masculine, ending in -o, or feminine, ending in -a) produced by either a male or a female speaker. When asked to indicate the grammatical gender of the words, listeners were faster and more accurate when the sex of the speaker “matched” the grammatical gender than when the sex of the speaker and the grammatical gender “mismatched.” No such interference was observed when listeners heard the same stimuli, but identified whether the speaker was male or female. This finding suggests that indexical information, in this case the sex of the speaker, influences not just processes associated with word recognition, but also higher-level processes associated with grammatical processing. This result also raises questions regarding the widespread assumption about the cognitive independence and automatic nature of grammatical processes.
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