Purdue University Graduate School
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Spanish Grammatical Gender: Linguistic Intuition in Spanish Heritage Speakers

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posted on 2024-05-02, 20:27 authored by Nancy J ReyesNancy J Reyes

The present study examined the acquisition of Spanish grammatical gender in 22 bilingual children (aged 5;0 to 13;5 years; Med=9;4 years; STD=2.3) who were born and raised in the United States and acquired Spanish as heritage speakers—that is, they learned Spanish, the minority language, in a home setting (Valdes, 2001). Each of the child participants had at least one parent who was born and raised in a Spanish-speaking country before immigrating to the U.S. post-puberty. Eleven (11) of the adults/parents, (aged 18 to 60 years, Med=42; STD=8.5)—all native speakers of Spanish—participated with their children, providing a control group for comparison purposes. Specifically, the study examined whether child heritage speakers of Spanish have linguistic intuition that enables them to distinguish between grammatical and ungrammatical constructs of gender expression in Spanish heard in ordinary speech (Chomsky, 1965). An Acceptability Judgment Task (AJT) presented each of the participants with both grammatical and ungrammatical versions of Spanish sentences in four grammatical conditions: (a) determiner-noun (DET-NOUN) assignment, (b) determiner-adjective (DET-ADJ) agreement, (c) noun-adjective (NOUN-ADJ) agreement, and (d) determiner phrase (DP) directionality (Cuza & Perez Tattam, 2016). Results showed that the participants—both children and adults—correctly found the grammatical examples to be acceptable. The adult participants consistently rejected the ungrammatical examples while many of the child participants had difficulties recognizing the ungrammatical examples as unacceptable. Statistical analysis found that the external factors of language dominance and language experience were significant in relation to the ability to distinguish the ungrammatical items, suggesting that the children who were dominant in Spanish and had more experience with the language were also more likely to recognize the ungrammatical constructs of the language. This result is in keeping with the Bilingual Alignments Approach, which focuses on the correlation of expected responses with the external factors of language dominance and language experience (Sánchez, 2019).


Purdue University School of Languages and Cultures

Purdue University School of Interdisciplinary Studies


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Languages and Cultures

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Alejandro Cuza Blanco

Additional Committee Member 2

Colleen Neary-Sundquist

Additional Committee Member 3

Mariko Wei

Additional Committee Member 4

Nuur Hamad-Zahonero