Skip to main content

Gender and number agreement in nonnative Spanish


This paper reports on an experiment investigating the acquisition of Spanish, a language that has a gender feature for nouns and gender agreement for determiners and adjectives, by speakers of a first language (L1) that also has gender (French), as well as an L1 that does not (English). Number (present in all three languages) is also investigated. Subjects were adult learners of Spanish, at three levels of proficiency, as well as a control group of native speakers. Oral production data were elicited. Subjects were also tested on an interpretation task, in which the selection of pictures corresponding to particular sentences depends on number and gender contrasts. The results from both tasks show significant effects for proficiency; low proficiency groups differ significantly from native speakers, but advanced and intermediate groups do not. There were no significant effects for L1 or for prior exposure to another second language with gender. The findings are discussed in the context of two different theories as to the possibility of parameter resetting in nonnative acquisition, namely, the failed functional features hypothesis and the full transfer full access hypothesis. The results are consistent with the latter hypothesis.

Corresponding author
Lydia White, McGill University, Department of Linguistics, 1085 Dr. Penfield Avenue, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1A7, Canada. E-mail:
Hide All
Andersen R. 1984. What's gender good for, anyway? In R. Andersen (Ed.), Second languages: A cross-linguistic perspective. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Bartning I. 2000. Gender agreement in L2 French: Pre-advanced vs. advanced learners. Studia Linguistica, 54, 225 237.
Bernstein J. 1993. Topics in the syntax of nominal structure across Romance. PhD dissertation, City University of New York.
Borer H. 1984. Parametric syntax. Dordrecht: Foris.
Bosque I., & Picallo C. 1996. Postnominal adjectives in Spanish DPs. Journal of Linguistics, 32, 349 385.
Bruhn de Garavito J. 1994. Acquisition of the Spanish plural: What is taught and what must be acquired. Paper presented at the Fourteenth Cincinnati Conference on Romance Languages and Linguistics, May 1994, Cincinnati, OH.
Bruhn de Garavito J., & White L. 2002. L2 acquisition of Spanish DPs: The status of grammatical features. In A. T. Pérez-Leroux & J. Liceras (Eds.), The acquisition of Spanish morphosyntax: The L1/L2 connection (pp. 153 178). Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Carstens V. 1991. The morphology and syntax of determiner phrases in Kiswahili. Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles.
Carstens V. 1993. Deriving agreement. Unpublished manuscript, Cornell University.
Carstens V. M. 2000. Concord in minimalist theory. Linguistic Inquiry, 31, 319 355.
Carroll S. 1989. Second-language acquisition and the computational paradigm. Language Learning, 39, 535 594.
Chomsky N. 1995. The minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press..
Chomsky N. 2001. Beyond explanatory adequacy. MIT Occasional Papers in Linguistics, 20.
Clahsen H., & Muysken P. 1989. The UG paradox in L2 acquisition. Second Language Research, 5, 1 29.
Corbett G. 1991. Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press..
Cressey W. 1978. Spanish phonology and morphology: A generative view. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Dewaele J.-M., & Véronique D. 2001. Gender assignment and gender agreement in advanced French interlanguage: A cross-sectional study. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4, 275 297.
Duffield N., & White L. 1999. Assessing L2 knowledge of Spanish clitic placement: Converging methodologies. Second Language Research, 15, 133 160.
Epstein S., Flynn S., & Martohardjono G. 1996. Second language acquisition: Theoretical and experimental issues in contemporary research. Brain and Behavioral Sciences, 19, 677 758.
Fernández–Garcia M. 1999. Patterns in gender agreement in the speech of second language learners. In J. Gutiérrez–Rexach & F. Martínez–Gill (Eds.), Advances in Hispanic linguistics. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Franceschina F. 2001. Morphological or syntactic deficits in near-native speakers? An assessment of some current proposals. Second Language Research, 17, 213 247.
Gess R., & Herschensohn J. 2001. Shifting the DP parameter: A study of anglophone French L2ers. In C. R. Wiltshire & J. Camps (Eds.), Romance syntax, semantics and their L2 acquisition (pp. 105 119). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Halle M., & Marantz A. 1993. Distributed morphology and the pieces of inflection. In K. Hale & S. J. Keyser (Eds.), The view from building 20 (pp. 111 176). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Harley H. 1994. Hug a tree: Deriving the morphosyntactic feature hierarchy. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 21, 289 320.
Harley H., & Noyer R. 1999. State-of-the-article: Distributed morphology. GLOT International, 4, 3 9.
Harris J. 1991. The exponence of gender in Spanish. Linguistic Inquiry, 22, 27 62.
Hawkins R. 1998, March). The inaccessibility of formal features of functional categories in second language acquisition. Paper presented at the Pacific Second Language Research Forum (PacSlrf), Tokyo.
Hawkins R. 2001. Second language syntax: A generative introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.
Hawkins R., & Chan C. Y.-H. 1997. The partial availability of Universal Grammar in second language acquisition: The “failed functional features hypothesis.” Second Language Research, 13, 187 226.
Hawkins R., & Franceschina F. (in press). Explaining the acquisition and nonacquisition of determiner-noun gender concord in French and Spanish. In J. Paradis & P. Prévost (Eds.), The acquisition of French in different contexts. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Hawkins R., & Liszka S. (in press). Locating the source of defective past tense marking in advanced L2 English speakers. In R. van Hout, A. Hulk, F. Kuiken, & R. Towell (Eds.), The interface between syntax and lexicon in second language acquisition. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Hulk A., & Tellier C. 1999. Conflictual agreement in Romance nominals. In J. M. Authier, B. Bullock, & L. Reed (Eds.), Formal perspectives on Romance linguistics (pp. 179 195). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Klapka L. 2002, May). L'accord du genre en français québecois au 19ième siècle. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association, Toronto.
Lardiere D. 2000. Mapping features to forms in second language acquisition. In J. Archibald (Ed.), Second language acquisition and linguistic theory (pp. 102 129). Oxford: Blackwell.
Liceras J., Diaz L., & Mongeon C. 1999, October). N-drop and determiners in native and non-native Spanish: More on the role of morphology in the acquisition of syntactic knowledge. Paper presented at the Conference on the First and Second Language Acquisition of Spanish and Portuguese, Washington, DC.
Leung Y.-K. I. 2002. L2. vs. L3 initial state: Evidence from the acquisition of French DPs by Vietnamese monolinguals and Cantonese-English bilinguals. In M. Hooghiemstra (Ed.), Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Third Language Acquisition and Trilingualism (CD-ROM). Ljouwert/Leeuwarden, The Netherlands: Fryske Akademy.
Lumsden J. 1992. Underspecification in grammatical and natural gender. Linguistic Inquiry, 22, 469 486.
Mallen E. 1997. A minimalist approach to concord in noun phrases. Theoretical Linguistics, 23, 49 77.
Ouhalla J. 1991. Functional categories and parametric variation. London: Routledge.
Parodi T., Schwartz B. D., & Clahsen H. 1997. On the L2 acquisition of the morphosyntax of German nominals. Essex Research Reports in Linguistics, 15, 1 43.
Pollock J.-Y. 1989. Verb movement, Universal Grammar, and the structure of IP. Linguistic Inquiry, 20, 365 424.
Prévost P., & White L. 2000. Missing surface inflection or impairment in second language acquisition? Evidence from tense and agreement. Second Language Research, 16, 103 133.
Riente L. 2003. Ladies first: The pivotal role of gender in the Italian nominal inflection system. McGill Working Papers in Linguistics, 17 (2), 1 53.
Ritter E. 1993. Where's gender? Linguistic Inquiry, 24, 795 803.
Sabourin L. 2001. L1 effects on the processing of grammatical gender in L2. In S. Foster–Cohen & A. Nizegorodcew (Eds.), Eurosla yearbook (Vol. 1, pp. 159 169). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Schriefers H., & Jescheniak J.-D. 1999. Representation and processing of grammatical gender in language production: A review. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28, 575 600.
Schwartz B. D., & Sprouse R. 1994. Word order and nominative case in nonnative language acquisition. In T. Hoekstra & B. Schwartz (Eds.), Language acquisition studies in generative grammar (pp. 317 368). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Schwartz B. D., & Sprouse R. 1996. L2 cognitive states and the full transfer/full access model. Second Language Research, 12, 40 72.
Smith N., & Tsimpli I.-M. 1995. The mind of a savant. Oxford: Blackwell.
Snyder W. 1995. Language acquisition and language variation: The role of morphology. PhD dissertation, MIT.
Stockwell R. R., Bowen J. D., & Martin J. W. 1965. The grammatical structures of English and Spanish. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Vainikka A., & Young–Scholten M. 1994. Direct access to X'-theory: Evidence from Korean and Turkish adults learning German. In T. Hoekstra & B. D. Schwartz (Eds.), Language acquisition studies in generative grammar (pp. 265 316). Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Valois D. 1991. The internal syntax of DP. PhD dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles.
White L. 1989. Universal grammar and second language acquisition. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
White L. 2003. Second language acquisition and universal grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
  • URL: /core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 279 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 743 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 25th November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.