His father s daughter and her mother s son gender attraction errors in child english
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His father’s daughter and her mother’s son: Gender attraction errors in child English. INTRODUCTION. Lucia Pozzan 1,2 , Dorota Ramlogan 3 , and Virginia Valian 1,3. 1 CUNY Graduate Center, 2 University of Pennsylvania, 3 Hunter College – CUNY. MATERIALS & METHODS. THE PHENOMENON

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His father’s daughter and her mother’s son: Gender attraction errors in child English

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His father’s daughter and her mother’s son: Gender attraction errors in child English


Lucia Pozzan1,2, DorotaRamlogan3, and Virginia Valian1,3

1CUNY Graduate Center, 2University of Pennsylvania, 3Hunter College – CUNY



Adult L2 learners of English occasionally produce gender agreement errors on possessive pronouns, agreeing with the possessor rather than the possessee(Antón-Méndez (2010):

Bob1sent a present to his1sister

*Bob1 sent a present to her1sister


  • Are errors due to non-target (Romance-like) grammars or are they speech errors?

  • Are gender agreement errors on pronouns a general learner phenomenon, such that children learning English as their L1 also produce gender agreement errors?

  • Do errors occur equally in match and mismatch conditions?

  • Do errors occur equally with masculine and femininenouns?

  • Is masculine gender the default?

Gender Errors

Match vs. Mismatch Female vs. Masculine

At least some portion of the errors are speech errors:

  • Children self-correct an incorrect response 20% of the time; they never change a correct response

  • The same error occurs in adult native speakers (5-6%) (Slevc, et al., 2007)

    Gender errors are likely a speaker phenomenon, rather than an L1-transfer error

    Even monolingual English-speaking children often incorrectly mark the gender of a possessive pronoun

    Gender errors are significantly more frequent when the possessor and the possessee mismatch in gender, indicating an attraction error

  • Gender errors occur to a similar extent in the two mismatch conditions

  • Masculine gender is not the default; if anything, the reverse


    Conclusions & Implications

    Gender errors on possessive pronouns are at least in part a speaker phenomenon, not only a transfer phenomenon

    Errors may be due in part to an incorrect grammar, as well as to speech errors

    • If so, the errors should surface in comprehension tasks

    • Native adult input is not ambiguous, but possessive pronouns are low in token and type frequency, semantic scope, and perceptual salience (Collins et al., 2009)

      To the extent that the errors are speech errors, we should be able to determine where in the production process they occur

      Antón-Méndez, I. (2010). Whose? L2-English speakers’ possessive pronoun gender errors. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 318-331.

      Collins, L., Trofimovich, P., White, J., Cardoso, W., & Horst, M. (2009). Some input on the easy/difficult grammar question: An empirical study. Modern Language Journal, 93, 336-353.

      Slevc, L. R., Wardlow, L., & Ferreira, V. S. (2007). Pronoun production: World or word knowledge? MIT Working Papers in Linguistics, 53, 191-203.


    • 14 monolingual English-speaking children

    • Mean age: 4;4

      Task: Elicited production

      Materials: 12 prompts :

      Match Condition (female-female) Possessor – Possessee

      Mismatch Condition 1 (female-male)

      Possessor – Possessee

      Mismatch Condition 2 (male-female)

      Possessor– Possessee


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