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Gender in Italian–German bilinguals: A comparison with German L2 learners of Italian*



This study compares mastery of gender assignment and agreement in Italian by adult Italian–German bilinguals who have acquired two languages simultaneously (2L1), and by adult German highly proficient second language learners (L2ers) of Italian. Our data show that incompleteness in bilingual acquisition and in second language (L2) acquisition primarily affects gender assignment: the categorization of nouns and the interpretable gender feature are subject to vulnerability in the two modalities of acquisition. Overall, mastery of morpho-syntax (i.e., gender agreement) was nearly native-like for both groups of speakers, suggesting that uninterpretable features are unlikely to be subject to vulnerability in the heritage language of adult bilingual speakers and can be acquired in adult L2 acquisition. Deviances from the target in gender assignment and, to a lesser extent, in gender agreement are attributed to both language-internal (i.e., language) and language-external factors (i.e., amount of input).


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The data presented here were collected as part of the Research Project E11, entitled Linguistic Features of First Language Attrition and Second Language Acquisition in Adult Bilinguals (German–French and German–Italian). The project was part of the Collaborative Research Center on Multilingualism (SFB 538: Mehrsprachigkeit), which was affiliated with the University of Hamburg. The project was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Science Council) and was directed by Jun. Prof. Dr. Tanja Kupisch. Founding members of the project were Dagmar Barton, Giulia Bianchi, and Ilse Stangen. The financial support of the DFG is gratefully acknowledged. We would like to express our gratitude to Dagmar Barton, Tanja Kupisch, Conxita Lleó, Jürgen M. Meisel, Monika Rothweiler, Ilse Stangen, and the members of the Collaborative Research Center on Multilingualism for their comments and suggestions on preliminary results of this study. The author would like to thank the editor Carmen Silva-Corvalán as well as the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, which improved the article. Many thanks are also due to Project Z2, Gabriella Angheleddu, Karin Campagnoli, and Ilse Stangen for their contributions to the realization of the experiments. A special thanks to all the people that patiently took part in the study.



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