Grammatical Gender in Atypical Language Development

A Case Study on the Interpretation and Production of Sentence Internal Codeswitching by an English–Spanish bilingual with Prader–Willi Syndrome


  • Juana M. Liceras University of Ottawa, Canada and Universidad Nebrija, Spain
  • Estela Garcia-Alcaraz University of Ottawa, Canada



atypical language development, intellectual disabilities, heritage language, analogical criterion, formal features


We use code-switched structures to investigate how gender is represented in the mind of an adult English-Spanish bilingual (Spanish is the Heritage language) who has Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS), a genetic disorder that presents both behavioral disturbances and intellectual and linguistic disabilities. The latter remains entirely unexplored in the case of bilingual speakers. Previous research (Liceras et al., 2016) using an Acceptability Judgment Task (AJT) and a Sentence Completion Task (SCT) has shown that typically-developing (TD) Spanish-dominant English-Spanish bilinguals (but not English-dominant bilinguals) prefer gender-matching switched Determiner+Noun (concord) and Subject+Adjectival Predicate (agreement) structures, as La[theF] house[casaF] or The house[la casaF] es roja[is redF] over non-matching ones, as El[theM] house[casaF] or The house[la casaF] es rojo[is redM], which means that these bilinguals abide by the so- called ‘analogical criterion’ (AC): they assign English Nouns the gender of their translation equivalent in Spanish. These same two tasks were administered to a 34 year-old male English-Spanish bilingual (English dominant) with PWS. The results show that in the AJT, he rates both matching and non-matching concord and agreement structures high but has a stronger preference for all structures that abide by the AC. In the SCT, he unambiguously abides by the AC with both types of structures as TD Spanish-dominant bilinguals do. These results constitute a first step towards investigating which linguistic abilities may be compromised in the case of the PWS population and provide evidence that bilingualism does not seem to have a negative effect on the activation of formal features in their grammars.


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How to Cite

Liceras, Juana M., and Estela Garcia-Alcaraz. 2019. “Grammatical Gender in Atypical Language Development: A Case Study on the Interpretation and Production of Sentence Internal Codeswitching by an English–Spanish Bilingual With Prader–Willi Syndrome”. Journal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech 1 (2):225–247.