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Romanisches Seminar

Federica Breimaier

Postdoktorandin für Italienische Sprachwissenschaft (Prof. Dr. M. Loporcaro)

Romanisches Seminar
Zürichbergstr. 8
CH - 8032 Zürich
+41 (0)44 634 39 58

Büro ZUG F 61

Appointment: To schedule an appointment, please email me at 

Academia Edu profile

I am Federica Breimaier, a postdoc teaching and research assistant at the Institute of Romance Studies at the University of Zurich, dedicated to unraveling the unfolding of gender agreement simplification across Italo-Romance varieties.

I graduated in Italian and English linguistics from the University of Zurich. I started my Ph.D. project in 2018 and successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis in the presence of Prof. Dr. Michele Loporcaro, Prof. Dr. Valentina Bambini, and Prof. Dr. Sandy Caffarra.

My research focuses on the demise of the neuter gender class among Italo-Romance varieties with more complex gender systems. I am interested in how predictive processes are influenced by this morpho-syntactic change, employing experimental methods such as portable eye-tracking and EEG, as well as quantitative techniques like online crowdsourcing for data collection. However, I have also experience with more traditional fieldwork (interviews including translation and Likert scale rating tasks). I use statistical modeling based on traditional regression models (mixed-effects linear, ordinal, and logistic regression models) and non-parametric tools such as Random Forests and inference trees.

In parallel with this, I have studied the acceptability of truncated vocatives in the dialect of Rome, co-authoring a paper with Prof. Michele Loporcaro and Prof. Vincenzo Faraoni. I am co-editing a comprehensive publication of Clement Merlo’s studies (Clemente Merlo, Scritti Linguistici). In the past, I have contributed to the DAI (Database of Agreement in Italo-Romance) project (tagging and co-authoring the linguistic overviews of Agnonese and Altamurano).

Looking ahead, I am committed to exploring new frontiers in my research area. I aim to incorporate non-standard varieties into the realm of linguistic systems investigated with experimental methodologies. I am open to collaborations and opportunities to advance our understanding of language change and bridge the gap between dialectology and psycho- and neurolinguistics.

Ph.D. Abstract (defense held on 20.12.2023)

Production and perception data on the ongoing demise of the neuter vs masculine contrast from two Italo-Romance varieties 

This research contributes to the investigation of the demise of the neuter versus masculine contrast among Italo-Romance varieties that still maintain it. Evidence is gathered from two dialects, Maceratese and Molfettese, and three language processing domains: production, perception, and prediction. A combination of approaches from dialectology, linguistic typology, and psycholinguistics, with a focus on quantitative methods, has been used to collect and analyze the data.  

The results of five studies indicate a trend towards simplification of this morphosyntactic opposition. This trend is observed in all linguistic domains for both dialects. Interestingly, the strategies used by the two systems to mark the neuter value on articles influence the erosion of the noun class. In Molfettese, masculine forms are generalized for neuter nouns, while in Maceratese, the opposite occurs, with neuter articles preceding masculine lexemes. Production and perception are closely intertwined. Violations involving the masculine versus feminine contrast are consistently rated as not acceptable by both groups of speakers. However, noun phrases featuring masculine and neuter nouns preceded by neuter and masculine articles show variation, being accepted by younger speakers. Results confirm the impact of linguistic variables and shed light on the influence of sociolinguistic factors such as age, parental origin, and place of residence, highlighting the multiplicity of factors underpinning the spread of the change across the community and the lexicon.  

The last experiment provides evidence to the longstanding debate on anticipatory strategies in language processing. While previous research often focused on WEIRD (raised in Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic) populations, in recent decades, efforts have been made to shift the focus on less investigated varieties. This eye-tracking experiment, the first conducted on an Italo-Romance dialect, fits into this attempt to broaden the researched systems.  

Results are also discussed in light of previous studies reporting a dissociation between production and perception in Norwegian dialects: speakers who maintained the contrast between gender classes, no longer used gender markings on articles to predict upcoming nouns. The present data do not replicate these findings since predictive strategies, although reduced, also emerged for the neuter condition. Moreover, current results support the importance of individual differences in the presence of anticipatory behavior. Speakers with a better command of the variety and higher short-term memory are quicker to identify the target in the visual world, across conditions.  

This research enhances the understanding of the demise of the neuter class in Maceratese and Molfettese with data from multiple language domains. It also expands the range of methodologies that can be applied to investigate gender agreement change across non-standard varieties.  






  • Agnone (2016): recruitment for the ERP experiment  
  • Agnone (2017): perception data (Likert scale rating) 
  • Molfetta (2019): production (translation) and perception (Likert scale rating) data 
  • Altamura (2022): joint fieldwork (seminar in linguistics) 
  • Molfetta (June 2022): picture naming study 
  • Molfetta (November 2022): recoding oral stimulus for eye-tracking experiment 
  • Molfetta (May-June 2023): Eye-tracking (portable) data collection 
  • Domodossola (Premia): joint fieldwork for AISr project