The acquisition of Spanish gender by English-speaking children in partial immersion setting
Andrews, Donna Bosworth
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This study investigates how English-speaking 5--7 year olds in a Spanish immersion program acquire the Spanish gender system.Perez-Pereira (1991) has shown that native Spanish-speaking children do not attend to semantic cues (reference to a male or female entity) nearly to the extent that they attend to phonological cues (word endings). Similar research by Karmiloff-Smith (1979), Levy (1983), and Mills (1986) support Perez-Pereira's findings that children attend to language-internal cues to grammatical gender, not language-external cues.However, learners of second languages may use different strategies in acquiring gender systems than first language learners do. Taylor-Brown (1984) showed that English-speaking 3rd--9th graders in a Canadian French immersion program were unable to use French phonological cues in the same way that native French-speaking children do. Instead, they relied on consciously employed "rules of thumb" to remember noun genders. The question here is whether younger children follow the acquisition pattern of their older L2 counterparts, or of L1 learners of +gender language.In this study, kindergartners and first graders in a Spanish immersion program looked at pictures of people and animals, and listened to two puppets using masculine and feminine articles to refer to the entities in the pictures. They were then asked to decide which puppet was using the correct article. Results indicate that kindergartners and boys were more successful at correctly assigning gender when they heard a morpho-phonological cue that corresponded to the correct gender than when they only saw a semantic cue to grammatical gender. Results also show that children were better at assigning gender when they had two converging cues to gender, rather than a single cue. This suggests that, like L1 learners of a +gender language, the kindergartners and boys use the linguistic gender cue to a greater extent than they use the semantic (sex) cue, and to a greater extent than first graders and girls. These results contribute to our understanding of how age, cognitive development, and first language may influence acquisition of a +gender L2.
- Linguistics