Proficiency and Animacy Effects on L2 Gender Agreement Processes During Comprehension

Nuria Sagarra, Julia Herschensohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


This study examines whether adult second language (L2) learners of an ungendered first language (L1) are sensitive to gender congruency (grammatical feature absent in the L1) and noun animacy (semantic feature present in the L1) when processing L2 gender concord and whether L2 proficiency level determines such sensitivity. To address these questions, 63 Spanish monolinguals and 69 beginning and 64 intermediate Anglophone late learners of L2 Spanish completed a moving-window and a grammaticality judgment task with sentences with gender concord and discord with animate and inanimate nouns. The moving-window data reveal longer reading times in sentences with gender discord than concord and in those with animate than inanimate nouns in intermediates and Spanish monolinguals but not in beginners. Similarly, grammaticality judgments show that intermediates are more accurate in sentences with inanimate than animate nouns and are better than beginners in sentences with gender agreement violations. These results suggest that intermediate learners display targetlike patterns that are more qualitatively similar to those of natives than beginners, both in terms of semantic and grammatical features. In addition, these findings indicate that agreement with animate nouns is cognitively more demanding than with inanimate nouns both for intermediates and Spanish monolinguals, in line with lexical and syntactic accounts of gender.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-116
Number of pages37
JournalLanguage Learning
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Adjective concord
  • Comprehension processing
  • Grammatical gender
  • Grammaticality judgment
  • L2 Spanish
  • L2 proficiency
  • Noun animacy
  • Psycholinguistic processing


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