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Transfer of Spanish grammatical gender to English: Evidence from immersed and non-immersed bilinguals*


In this study we explored whether native Spanish speakers’ knowledge of grammatical gender in their native language (L1) affects speech production in a second language (L2) which lacks this feature (English). We selected Spanish–English bilinguals for testing who were immersed in either an L1 or an L2 context. Using a picture–word task, participants had to name pictures in their L2 while ignoring distractor words that could be either gender-congruent or gender-incongruent according to the Spanish translation. Results revealed that non-immersed participants were slower naming the pictures in the congruent condition, suggesting that bilingual people are influenced by knowledge about gender in their native language, even when producing utterances in a language in which this information does not apply. However, no such influence was observed for immersed bilinguals, suggesting that immersion environment attenuates access to the native language. We interpret our results as evidence of transfer effects between languages with different lexical systems, which seem to depend on language immersion.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Luis Morales, Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center, University of Granada, Campus de Cartuja s/n, 18071, Granada,
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This research was supported in part by a doctoral research grant from the Andalusian Government (P08-HUM-03600) to Luis Morales, grants EDU2008-01111 and CSD2008-00048 from the Spanish Ministry of Education to Teresa Bajo, and grants P07-HUM-02510 and P08-HUM-03600 from the Andalusian Government to Teresa Bajo. We are indebted to Giuli Dussias for helping us to collect the data for the immersed and monolingual groups. We would like to express our gratitude to the reviewers for their valuable comments.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
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