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Grammatical gender selection and phrasal word order in child heritage Spanish: A feature re-assembly approach*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2015

Purdue University
Swansea University
Address for correspondence: Alejandro Cuza, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, School of Languages and Cultures, 640 Oval Drive. Stanley Coulter Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN


The present study examines the development of grammatical gender assignment, agreement, and noun-adjective word order in child heritage Spanish among thirty-two Spanish–English bilingual children born and raised in the United States. A picture-naming task revealed significant overextension of the masculine form and high levels of ungrammatical word order strings. There were no significant differences by age regarding gender concord or noun-adjective word order. We argue that the differences found can be accounted for in terms of a re-assembly of gender features leading to both morphological and syntactic variability. This approach allows for subsequent morphosyntactic shifts during early childhood depending on patterns of language use, and conceptualizes heritage language variation along the lines of current linguistic theorizing regarding the role of innate linguistic principles and language experience in language development.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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We would like to thank Liliana Sánchez, Ana Teresa Pérez-Leroux and Conchita Lleó for their thoughtful suggestions and feedback. We are very grateful to the three anonymous reviewers and to Ludovica Serratrice for their excellent comments and revisions. We are deeply indebted to our participants, parents, and school administrators for all of their support and collaboration. This research would not have been possible without their generous support. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 42nd Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL), and we thank the audience for their questions and comments.


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