Hostname: page-component-7479d7b7d-8zxtt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-13T22:00:50.076Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2014

University of Granada
University of Granada
University of Trento
University of Granada
Address for correspondence: Luis Morales, Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center, University of Granada, Campus de Cartuja s/n, 18071, Granada,


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.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



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.


Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2008). Control mechanisms in bilingual language production: Neural evidence from language switching studies. Language and Cognitive Processes, 23, 557582.Google Scholar
Alameda, J. R., & Cuetos, F. (1995). Diccionario de frecuencias de las unidades lingüísticas del castellano. Oviedo: Servicio de publicaciones de la Universidad de Oviedo.Google Scholar
Alario, F. X., Ayora, P., Costa, A., & Melinger, A. (2008). Grammatical and nongrammatical contributions to closed-class word selection. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 960–81.Google Scholar
Baus, C., Costa, A., & Carreiras, M. (2013). On the effects of second language immersion on first language production. Acta Psychologica, 142, 402409.Google Scholar
Bordag, D., & Pechmann, T. (2007). Factors influencing L2 gender processing. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10, 299314.Google Scholar
Bordag, D., & Pechmann, T. (2008). Grammatical gender in translation. Second Language Research, 24, 139166.Google Scholar
Boutonnet, B., Athanasopoulos, P., & Thierry, G. (2012). Unconscious effects of grammatical gender during object categorisation. Brain Research, 1479, 7279.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Brysbaert, M., & New, B. (2009). Moving beyond Kučera and Francis: A critical evaluation of current word frequency norms and the introduction of a new and improved word frequency measure for American English. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 977990.Google Scholar
Caramazza, A. (1997). How many levels of processing are there in lexical access? Cognitive Neuropsychology, 14, 177208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Colzato, L. S., Bajo, M. T., Wildenberg, W. V. D., Paolieri, D., Nieuwenhuis, S., Heij, W. L., & Hommel, B. (2008). How does bilingualism improve executive control? A comparison of active and reactive inhibition mechanisms. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 302312.Google Scholar
Corbett, G. G. (1991). Gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Costa, A., & Caramazza, A. (1999). Is lexical selection in bilingual speech production language-specific? Further evidence from Spanish–English and English–Spanish bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 2, 231244.Google Scholar
Costa, A., Heij, W. L., & Navarrete, E. (2006). The dynamics of bilingual lexical access. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 137151.Google Scholar
Costa, A., Kovacic, D., Franck, J., & Caramazza, A. (2003). On the autonomy of the grammatical gender systems of the two languages of a bilingual. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6, 181200.Google Scholar
Cubelli, R., Lotto, L., Paolieri, D., Girelli, M., & Job, R. (2005). Grammatical gender is selected in bare noun production: Evidence from the picture–word interference paradigm. Journal of Memory and Language, 53, 4259.Google Scholar
Cubelli, R., & Paolieri, D. (2008). The processing of grammatical gender as abstract lexical feature. In Arcuri, L., Boscolo, P. & Peressotti, F. (eds.), Cognition and Language: A long story. Festschrift in honour of Ino Flores D’Arcais, pp. 7386. Padova: Cleup.Google Scholar
Dijkstra, T. (2005). Bilingual visual word recognition and lexical access. In Kroll, J. F. & de Groot, A. M. B. (eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, pp. 179201. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Foucart, A., & Frenck-Mestre, C. (2011). Grammatical gender processing in L2: Electrophysiological evidence of the effect of L1–L2 syntactic similarity. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 379399.Google Scholar
Friederici, A. D., & Jacobsen, T. (1999). Processing grammatical gender during language comprehension. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 29, 467484.Google Scholar
Ganushchak, L. Y., Verdonschot, R. G., & Schiller, N. O. (2011). When leaf becomes neuter: Event-related potential evidence for grammatical gender transfer in bilingualism. Neuroreport, 22, 106110.Google Scholar
Gollan, T. H., Montoya, R. I., Fennema-Notestine, C., & Morris, S. K. (2005). Bilingualism affects picture naming but not picture classification. Memory & Cognition, 33, 12201234.Google Scholar
Hermans, D., Bongaerts, T., de Bot, K., & Schreuder, R. (1998). Producing words in a foreign language: Can speakers prevent interference from their first language? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 213229.Google Scholar
Hoshino, N., & Thierry, G. (2011). Language selection in bilingual word production: Electrophysiological evidence for cross-language competition. Brain Research, 1371, 100109.Google Scholar
Kroll, J. F., Sumutka, B. M., & Schwartz, A. I. (2005). A cognitive view of the bilingual lexicon: Reading and speaking words in two languages. International Journal of Bilingualism, 9, 2748.Google Scholar
La Heij, W., Mak, P., Sander, J., & Willeboordse, E. (1998). The gender-congruency effect in picture-word tasks. Psychological Research, 61, 209219.Google Scholar
Lemhöfer, K., Spalek, K., & Schriefers, H. (2008). Cross-language effects of grammatical gender in bilingual word recognition and production. Journal of Memory and Language, 59, 312330.Google Scholar
Levelt, W. J. M., Roelofs, A., & Meyer, A. S. (1999). A theory of lexical access in speech production. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 175.Google Scholar
Levy, B. J., McVeigh, N. D., Marful, A., & Anderson, M. C. (2007). Inhibiting your native language: The role of retrieval-induced forgetting during second-language acquisition. Psychological Science, 18, 2934.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Linck, J. A., Kroll, J. F., & Sunderman, G. (2009). Losing access to the native language while immersed in a second language: Evidence for the role of inhibition in second-language learning. Psychological Science, 20, 15071515.Google Scholar
Lotto, L., Dell’Acqua, R., & Job, R. (2001). Le figure PD/DPSS. Misure di accordosulnome, tipicità, familiarità, età di acquisizione e tempi di denominazione per 266 figure. Giornale italiano di psicologia, 28, 193210.Google Scholar
Macizo, P., Bajo, M. T., & Martín, M. C. (2010). Inhibitory processes in bilingual language comprehension: Evidence from Spanish–English interlexical homographs. Journal of Memory and Language, 63, 232244.Google Scholar
Mahon, B. Z., Costa, A., Peterson, R., Vargas, K., & Caramazza, A. (2007). Lexical selection is not by competition: A reinterpretation of semantic interference and facilitation effects in the picture-word interference paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 503535.Google Scholar
Marian, V., Blumenfeld, H. K., & Kaushanskaya, M. (2007). The language experience and proficiency questionnaire (LEAP-Q): Assessing language profiles in bilinguals and multilinguals. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50, 940967.Google Scholar
Marian, V., & Spivey, M. (2003). Competing activation in bilingual language processing: Within- and between-language competition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6, 97115.Google Scholar
Meuter, R. F. I., & Allport, A. (1999). Bilingual language switching in naming: Asymmetrical costs of language selection. Journal of Memory and Language, 40, 2540.Google Scholar
Midgley, K. J., Wicha, N. Y. Y., Holcomb, P. J., & Grainger, J. (2007). Gender agreement transfer during sentence processing in early language learners: An electrophysiological study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Supplement, 170.Google Scholar
Morales, L., Paolieri, D., & Bajo, M. T. (2011). Grammatical gender inhibition in bilinguals. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 284.Google Scholar
Paolieri, D., Cubelli, R., Macizo, P., Bajo, M. T., Lotto, L., & Job, R. (2010a). Grammatical gender processing in Italian and Spanish bilinguals. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63, 16311645.Google Scholar
Paolieri, D., Lotto, L., Morales, L., Bajo, M. T., Cubelli, R., & Job, R. (2010b). Grammatical gender processing in romance languages: Evidence from bare noun production in Italian and Spanish. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 22, 335347.Google Scholar
Sabourin, L., Stowe, L. A., & de Haan, G. J. (2006). Transfer effects in learning a second language grammatical gender system. Second Language Research, 22, 129.Google Scholar
Salamoura, A., & Williams, J. N. (2007). The representation of grammatical gender in the bilingual lexicon: Evidence from Greek and German. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10, 257275.Google Scholar
Schiller, N. O., & Caramazza, A. (2003). Grammatical feature selection in noun phrase production: Evidence from German and Dutch. Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 169194.Google Scholar
Schneider, W., Eschman, A., & Zuccolotto, A. (2002). E-Prime User's Guide (Version 1.1). Pittsburgh, PA: Psychology Software Tools.Google Scholar
Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). A standardized set of 260 pictures: Norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human, Learning and Memory, 6, 174215.Google Scholar
Starreveld, P. A., & La Heij, W. (2004). Phonological facilitation of grammatical gender retrieval. Language and Cognitive Processes, 19, 677711.Google Scholar