Production and comprehension of grammatical gender by Spanish heritage speakers: Evidence from accusative clitic pronouns

Lourdes Martinez-Nieto, Maria Adelaida Restrepo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study investigates (a) the accuracy of Heritage Speakers (HSs) in production and comprehension of Spanish clitic pronouns when compared to monolingual children, (b) the differences in error patterns between groups, and (c) the possible asymmetry in production and comprehension in gender clitics. Methodology: The participants included six groups, a group of Spanish-HS divided into three age groups, PreKinder, 3rd-Grade, and Adults, and a group of Spanish-monolinguals of the same ages. Agreement data were obtained using a cloze-format task for production and a picture selection task for comprehension. Data and Analysis: The results compared accuracy and response time scores between HSs and monolingual speakers, between age groups, and target gender using a 2 × 3 multivariable analysis of variance. Findings: Children in the HS-group scored lower in accuracy than the monolingual children, but Adult-HS performed at the same level as Adult-Monolinguals. HSs, but not monolinguals, overused the masculine form. Production and comprehension scores showed an asymmetrical development in which speakers are better at clitic production than comprehension. Gender clitic agreement is a difficult aspect at age 4, even in monolingual contexts. Originality: The potential contribution of this study is twofold. First, it contributes to the continuing debate on the development of HSs’ grammar by comparing comprehension and production data of monolinguals and HSs, matched for age. Second, it provides evidence of high rates of gender agreement in Adult-HSs. Significance: Grammatical gender is a vulnerable aspect of Spanish-HS grammar, but it is not an incompletely acquired representation. Results support a dissociation between production and comprehension of gender clitic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
StateAccepted/In press - 2022


  • Grammatical gender
  • heritage grammar
  • production and comprehension in clitic pronouns
  • Spanish accusative clitic pronouns
  • Spanish heritage speakers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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