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The Macksey Journal

Abstract

This study set out to determine whether cross-linguistic interference with respect to object-gender association could be observed in the bilingual acquisition of Spanish and English. I present data that supports the existence of this type of interference. The study gathered data from 10 children, four English monolinguals, four English-Spanish bilinguals, and two Spanish monolinguals. The children were all close in age ranging from 3;04 to 4;07. The study consisted of two separate tasks: name-to-picture matching and naming. Every child was asked to complete each task twice. For the monolingual children, all of the tasks were conducted in their respective languages. The bilingual children performed the tasks first in Spanish and then in English. In both of the tasks, there were patterns uncovered from all three groups that indicated that there was a preference toward using grammatical gender as a basis to assign sociocultural gender to inanimate objects. The English monolingual children showed a higher variability with their responses whereas the Spanish monolinguals showed the lowest variability. When it came to the bilingual children, their responses’ variability fell between that of the other two groups. In addition to the responses for the gender-selection naming and matching tasks, other signs that might indicate the presence of crosslinguistic interferences were also observed. Hesitation prior to responding when asked to decide between two objects of the same Spanish grammatical gender was more prominent in the bilingual and Spanish monolingual children. This showed that the children with a Spanish language system may have been conflicted due to an equal pull to assign both object the same gender. The study also looked for preferences regarding socially conditioned semantic gender versus grammatical gender when presented with objects could be seen as misrepresented by their Spanish grammatical gender. This was designed to determine if Spanish grammatical gender had a greater influence on the children’s responses than socio-cultural gender norms. Using the data from these two aspects of the study along with that of the naming and matching tasks, I show evidence of crosslinguistic interference regarding gender-association in children concurrently acquiring English and Spanish. These distinct trends support the claim that English-Spanish bilingual children display signs of cross-linguistic interference.

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