Grammatical gender processing in L2 speakers of Spanish
The role of cognate status and gender transparency
Recent findings indicate that native speakers (L1) use grammatical gender marking on articles to facilitate the processing of upcoming nouns (e.g., Lew-Williams & Fernald, 2007; Dussias, Valdés Kroff, Guzzardo Tamargo, & Gerfen, 2013). Conversely, adult second language (L2) learners for whom grammatical gender is absent in their first language appear to need near-native proficiency to behave like native speakers (Dussias et al., 2013; Hopp, 2013). The question addressed here is whether sensitivity to grammatical gender in L2 learners of Spanish is modulated by the cognate status of nouns due to their heightened parallel orthographic, phonological, morpho-syntactic and semantic activation. Additionally, the role of transparent and non-transparent word-final gender marking cues was examined because past studies have shown that native speakers of Spanish are sensitive to differences in gender transparency (Caffarra, Janssen, & Barber, 2014). Participants were English learners of Spanish and Spanish monolingual speakers. Data were collected using the visual world paradigm. Participants saw 2-picture visual scenes in which objects either matched in gender (same-gender trials) or mismatched (different-gender trials). Targets were embedded in the preamble Encuentra el/la ___ ‘Find the ___’. The monolingual group displayed an anticipatory effect on different gender trials, replicating past studies that show that native speakers use grammatical gender information encoded in prenominal modifiers predictively. The learners were able to use gender information on the articles to facilitate processing, but only when the nouns had gender endings that were transparent. Cognate status did not confer an advantage during grammatical gender processing.
Keywords: second language, grammatical gender, L2 processing, cognates, transparency, morphosyntax
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