Acquisition of Italian grammatical gender: L2 learners

This study investigated the sensitivity to gender cues exhibited by L2 learners of Italian. The participants were 64 students in first- and second-year Italian classes at the university level. Three tests were given to ascertain the students' ability to assign gender based on morphophonological, syntactic, and semantic cues. Results showed that the students were sensitive to cues in the word-final phonemes that reliably indicate gender, and implicational scaling demonstrated a clear order of difficulty among these endings. The students exhibited a low degree of awareness of the gender associations of certain derivational suffixes. When dealing with more than one cue, the students had no difficulty assigning gender when the cues were in accord, while coping with conflicting cues was more problematic. Nonetheless, in the majority of the cases, the students were able to use syntactic cues to override contradictory cues in the noun endings. While as a group, the students were reliant on a syntactic strategy, the implicational scaling performed on the results revealed the presence of subgroups following different strategies, i.e., morphophonological or semantic. Clear scales of difficulty among the various combinations of cue types also emerged.

Tagged as 1996-1999 research