Spanish grammatical gender: Its effects on categorization in native Hungarian speakers

Elena Kurinski, Emőke Jambor, Maria D. Sera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Aims and Objectives/Purpose/Research Questions: We asked whether the second-language (L2) learning effects on cognition are affected by properties of the native language (L1) by further examining the effects of grammatical gender on categorization in native speakers of Hungarian, which unlike previously-studied L1s, has no grammatical gender. Design/Methodology/Approach: Hungarian speakers taking an introductory Spanish course participated in two tasks repeatedly during two semesters. One task examined their acquisition of the target nouns and their grammatical gender. The other examined their categorization of pictured objects by using voice assignments. Data and Analysis: A group of 74 beginning Spanish learners participated. Data was analyzed with parametric statistical tests of significance. First we analyzed the results on the language task to examine progress on acquisition of grammatical gender. Then we analyzed the results on the categorization task to determine if learning grammatical gender affected it. Finally, we examined the relationship between knowledge of grammatical gender and categorization by analyzing the categorization performance after 30 weeks of instruction by those who showed high versus low knowledge of grammatical gender. Findings/Conclusions: Similarly to Kurinski and Sera (2011), we began observing changes in categorization after 10 weeks of instruction. Results provide additional evidence that learning a second language in adulthood influences categorization. Unlike previous findings, however, Hungarian learners were more successful at acquiring Spanish grammatical gender than the English speakers previously studied. Originality: Investigating the effects of grammatical gender on categorization in L2 learners whose native language is completely genderless offered a naturally occurring ‘manipulation’ of a relevant factor – the properties of L1 – critical to this line of research. Significance/Implications: The findings provide additional supporting evidence that human cognition can be influenced by learning a language in adulthood. Given that the language effects occurred earlier and were much stronger than those from previous work, we believe that properties of one’s native language may affect acquisition and subsequently the magnitude of language’s effect on cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-93
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016


  • Spanish grammatical gender acquisition
  • categorization
  • language–thought relations


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