Grammatical and conceptual forces in the attribution of gender by English and Spanish speakers

Maria D. Sera, Christian A H Berge, Javier del Castillo Pintado

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125 Scopus citations


We compared the assignment of gender to masculine and feminine pictured objects-as classified by the Spanish grammar-by English- and Spanish-speaking children and adults in three experiments. Across all three studies, subjects participated in one of two conditions. In one condition, pictures alone were presented; in the other condition, pictures were shown and labeled. We found that speakers of Spanish began to classify the objects according to the grammatical gender of the Spanish language in the second grade, unlike speakers of English. The effect of grammatical gender was more pronounced for speakers of Spanish when the objects were labeled, pointing specifically to the role of language in their classifications. We also found that English speakers were consistent in their judgments, often classifying artificial objects as male-like and natural objects as female-like. Spanish speakers were also sensitive to the natural-female/artificial-male conceptual division. Finally, we found that the artificial-male/natural-female link was an earlier force in classification for speakers of English than grammatical gender was for speakers of Spanish, suggesting that grammatical classifications are superimposed on conceptual ones in development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)261-292
Number of pages32
JournalCognitive Development
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1994

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Experiment 1 was used to partially fulfill the requirements for a master’s degree by Christian A. H. Berge at the University of Minnesota. This research was supported by a McKnight Research Award from the University of Minnesota and by a research grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD; HD R0127376) to Maria D. Sera. We thank the staffs at Chicanos Latinos Unidos En Servicios (CLUES) and The Neighborhood House in St. Paul and Minneapolis for their assistance with the data collection, with special thanks to Albert0 Ortiz, Roberto Avifia, Maren Swanson, Francis Mudic, Milissa Tilton, and Eric Reittinger. We also thank the teachers and children of Joaquin Costa in Madrid and extend a special thanks to Julian Diaz. A portion of this research was presented at the 60th meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in New Orleans, LA.


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