Clitic pronouns reveal the time course of processing gender and number in a second language

Eleonora Rossi, Judith F. Kroll, Paola E. Dussias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


This study investigates grammatical gender and number processing marked on clitic pronouns in native Spanish speakers and in late English-Spanish bilinguals using ERPs. Spanish clitic pronouns were chosen as a critical grammatical structure which is absent in English, and which encodes both grammatical gender and number. Number, but not grammatical gender, is present in English, making this structure a prime one to investigate second language processing. Results reveal a P600 effect in native speakers for violations of both gender and number. Late but relatively proficient English-Spanish bilinguals show a P600 effect only for number violations occurring at the clitic pronoun, but not for gender violations. However a post-hoc analysis reveals that a subset of highly proficient late bilinguals does reveal sensitivity to violations of grammatical gender marked on clitic pronouns. Taken together these results suggest that native-like processing is possible for highly proficient late second language learners for grammatical features that are not present in the speakers' native language, even when those features are encoded on a grammatical morpheme which itself is absent in the speakers' native language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-25
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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