Published On: 27/01/2013|Categories: 2013–2017, Vol.34 (1), Vol.34 (2013)|

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Grammatical gender embedded in determiners, nouns and adjectives allows indirect and more rapid processing of the referents implied in sentences. However in a language such as Spanish, this useful information cannot be reliably retrieved from a single source of information. Instead, noun gender may be extracted either from phono-morphological, semantic or syntactic cues, such as determiner-noun frames. This experimental work sought to explore toddlers’ ability to use feminine and masculine determiners to infer a referent whose name was marked for grammatical gender, ending in ‘o’ or ‘a’, as well as a referent whose name was unmarked. Using the intermodal preferential looking paradigm, 24-, 30- and 36-month-old children were presented with pairs of images, target and distracter, of familiar objects while, at the same time, they heard a feminine or masculine definite (Experiment 1) or indefinite (Experiment 2) article that could only refer to one of the images displayed. Half of the trials presented objects whose target names ended in a final-vowel indicative of grammatical gender and the other half had another ending. The results demonstrated toddlers’ ability to use the determiners to infer a target. Differences between toddlers’ use of definite and indefinite determiners were found. The ability to use indefinite articles preceded the ability to use definite articles. In general, the results showed that anticipation of the noun from the determiner is mostly a function of phono-morphological cues embedded in marked nouns. Nevertheless, 36- month-old children were also able to associate the articles to targets whose names were unmarked for grammatical gender.

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