Does learning Spanish grammatical gender change English-speaking adults' categorization of inanimate objects?

Elena Kurinski, Maria D. Sera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Second language acquisition studies can contribute to the body of research on the influence of language on thought by examining cognitive change as a result of second language learning. We conducted a longitudinal study that examined how the acquisition of Spanish grammatical gender influences categorization in native English-speaking adults. We asked whether learning the grammatical gender of Spanish affects adult native English speakers' attribution of gender to inanimate objects. College students enrolled in beginning Spanish participated in two tasks repeatedly (four times) throughout one academic year. One task examined their acquisition of grammatical gender. The other examined their categorization of inanimate objects. We began to observe changes in participants' grammatical gender acquisition and in categorization after ten weeks of Spanish instruction. Results indicate that learning a second language as an adult can change the way one categorizes objects. However, the effect of Spanish grammatical gender was more limited in Spanish learners than in native Spanish speakers; it was not observed for all kinds of objects nor did it increase with learners' proficiency, suggesting that adults learning Spanish reach a plateau beyond which changes in categorization do not occur.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-220
Number of pages18
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
* This research was supported in part by a small grant from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Minnesota. The authors would like to thank Professor Carol Klee for her helpful comments and professional support. A portion of this work is based on Elena Kurinski’s doctoral dissertation, “Gender Attribution by Adult Native English Speakers Learning Spanish”. We extend our thanks to dissertation committee members Francisco Ocampo and Timothy Face. Some of the data from this study were presented at the V International Conference of the Spanish Cognitive Linguistics Association in Murcia, Spain (October 2006).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2010 Cambridge University Press.


  • Spanish grammatical gender
  • categorization
  • language and cognition
  • language-thought relations
  • second language learning


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