Interdisciplinary Lecture Series in Linguistics: Switching On and Off Spanish Grammatical Gender in Bilingual Scenarios

Dr. Maria del Carmen Parafita-Couto, Leiden University

Monday, October 21, 2019 | 05:30 pm

Ortega Hall Reading Room (335)


Gender agreement in Spanish is relatively transparent (Roca 1989). Spanish-speaking children acquire gender agreement before the age of five (Mariscal 2009) and adult speakers do not generally show any difficulties with agreement. However, what happens in bilingual situations when a speaker of Spanish also speaks another language that lacks a grammatical gender distinction? This talk will report a series of production and acceptability tasks designed to explore the behavior of Spanish grammatical gender when Spanish is spoken alongside a language that lacks grammatical gender (English, Purepecha, Basque, Papiamento). Dr. Maria del Carmen Parafita-Couto will focus on two linguistic phenomena:

(i) Code-switching, in which nouns from the language without gender are inserted into an otherwise Spanish sentence or phrase and need to be assigned masculine or feminine Spanish gender.

(ii) Suppression, in which bilingual speakers of two languages with highly cognate lexicons (Spanish and Papiamento) have to suppress the Spanish features responsible for gender agreement when using Papiamento.

Taken together, these studies highlight the importance of comparing multiple language pairs using similar tasks. The differences and similarities between the bilingual’s linguistic systems evidenced by this approach over insight into the representation of grammatical gender in the lexicon and how this is borne out in bilingual use.

Dr. Maria del Carmen Parafita-Couto is a Lecturer (Tenured- equivalent Associate Professor in the U.S.) in Latin American Studies at Leiden University (Europe). She is also the Chair of Latin American Studies BA, MA and MA programs at Leiden University, The Netherlands. Her fields of interest include bilingualism, language contact, code-switching, dialect syntax, linguistic interfaces, sociolinguistics and Integration of corpus studies and experimental research. Dr. Parafita-Couto’s research studies the impact of bilingualism and language contact on language structure, mostly the syntax of code-switching. Her research program takes a cross-disciplinary approach using converging methodological tools ranging from corpus data to behavioral methods, and more recently also electrophysiological measures.



This event is free and open to the public.