«Learning a Gendered Language: L2 Acquisition and Relative Processing Costs of Spanish Grammatical Gender and Number Alexander M. Hirsch Yale ...»
Although the results of this study do point to the specific conclusions discussed above, the lack of statistical significance in certain areas suggests that the inquiry into the subject of gender and number processing by second language learners is far from over.
Future directions should include running a similar experiment with a much larger sample size, especially to determine the true nature of both groups’ reactions to mismatches in the window following the noun. Furthermore, these participants should be more rigorously quantified with regard to their proficiency levels, and a similar procedure should be conducted with near-native speakers as well as the advanced group seen here.
This experiment dealt only with participants’ reactions to mismatches between determiners and nouns and did not deal with reactions to mismatches between nouns and adjectives. Although studies have examined noun-adjective mismatches in the past, future research should be conducted comparing the two relationships directly to determine whether speakers behave differently depending on what type of constituent disagrees with the noun. In addition, this experiment did not attempt to separate nouns with regular, i.e.
canonical and transparent, gender from those with irregular gender inflection. It is possible that speakers react differently to regular and irregular gender, which could have skewed the results of the study. Future studies should consider this aspect of Spanish gender carefully, especially those that rely on grammatical judgment tasks or the like.
Based on the results of this experiment, I conclude that advanced late L2 learners who have not achieved ultimate attainment are still able to process determiner-noun gender mismatches in nearly the same way as native speakers. The delayed reaction time representing nativelike processing indicates, however, that L2 speakers are slower to process these mismatches. Therefore, while able to correctly analyze gender mismatches in an online task, these speakers cannot do so as quickly as native speakers, indicating that they have not reached the same proficiency levels that are exhibited by near-native L2 speakers. Furthermore, their delayed performance on gender mismatch reanalysis contrasts with their immediate performance on number mismatch. This disjunction between L2 speakers’ reanalysis of these two types of syntactic mismatches is explained by transfer effects in accordance to psycholinguistic accounts by Barber & Carreiras (2005)
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A. Language Description Spanish contains both grammatical gender and number, both of which are independently bivariate. 6 Both gender and number in Spanish are canonically marked as a verbal suffix on the ends of nouns and any adjectives or determiners that agree with the nouns in question. Canonically, masculine marking appears as the suffix –o, while feminine marking appears as the suffix –a. Similarly, singular nouns are unmarked (or marked with a null suffix), while plural nouns are marked with the suffix –s following any gender marking, as in Table A1, below. Although some nouns may not be overtly marked for gender, all nouns have grammatical gender which must agree with modifying adjectives and determiners, as in item 3, below.
Table A1. Spanish gender and number marking paradigm.
Note that gender may or may not correspond to actual, biological gender. For example, perr-o, dog-M.SG, may denote a male or female dog (if the sex of the dog is not specified), but perr-a, dog-F.SG, can only denote a female dog.
Cf. German, which has masculine-singular, feminine-singular, neuter-singular, and the genderless plural.