Purpose: The present study examined grammatical gender use in child Spanish heritage speakers (HSs) in order to determine whether the differences observed in their grammar, when compared to Spanish monolinguals, stem from an incompletely acquired grammar, in which development stops, or from a restructuring process, in which features from the dominant and the weaker language converge to form a new grammatical system. In addition, this study evaluated whether the differences usually found in comprehension are also present in production. Finally, this study evaluates if HSs differences are the result of the input available to them.
Method: One-hundred and four typically developing children, 48 HSs and 58 monolingual, were selected based on two age groups (Preschool vs. 3rd Grade). Two comprehension and three production experimental tasks were designed for the three different grammatical structures where Spanish expresses gender (determiners, adjectives, and clitic pronouns). Linear mixed-models were used to examine main effects between groups and grammatical structures.
Results: Results from this study showed that HSs scored significantly lower than monolingual speakers in all tasks and structures; however, 3rd-Grade HSs had higher accuracy than PK-HSs. Error patterns were similar between monolinguals and HSs. Moreover, the commonly reported overgeneralization of the masculine form seems to decrease as HSs get older.
Conclusion: These results suggest that HSs’ do not face a case of Incomplete Acquisition or Restructured Grammatical gender system, but instead follow a protracted language development in which grammatical skills continue to develop after preschool years and follow the same developmental patterns as monolingual children