The Spanish speaking community have a different cultural heritage, set of values and beliefs and even attitude that makes them distinct compared to other communities that are currently residing in the United States. The population of this community comes from different parts of the world who have their own reasons for migrating. Some of them do transfer because of socio economic reasons, others share political insights while others move for their own personal reason. There is also lies a variety of demographics within the community, they are differentiated in terms of their economic standing and even their gender.
In spite of the diversity that is present in this single community, there are still different characteristic that tends to standout among them, and that is the Spanish language. (Jackson-Maldodado, 1999). This is very important both in the level of communication and the grammar level. Language is able to foster family ties regardless of the age group that they belong to. (Langdon 1992; Jackson-Maldonado et al.
1993). They are able to maximize the use of this language in affirming their values including politeness as seen in such phrases as gracias, which means “thank you,” or seria usted tan amable de …, “would you be so kind as to …,”. Even at a very young age the Spanish tradition inculcates the value of listening and not to speak out or interrupt, and they have more interaction with peers than do English-speaking children (Langdon 1992).
From the socio cultural stand point, a student who is English speaking (L1) and wants to learn Spanish as it secondary language (L2) needs to be fully aware of the different processes that one has to go thru to help construct their proficiency in Spanish. Moreover, they need to experience the culture so as to understand and better appreciate the said language.
There are different known methods as to how this can be achieved, one which is considered as the most effective is known as social engagement. In this strategy, students are allowed to interact with each other to ensure that better performance is achieved. (Donato, 2000; Kern & Warschauer, 2000; Ohta, 1995; Swain, 1995). It is believed that social interaction improves language acquisition focusing on grammar, The theoretical framework of this paper is focus on the socio cultural perspective.
Socio Cultural Perspective
For years, researches have shown that language acquisition becomes more meaningful when it is coupled with meaningful social interaction.( Donato, 2000; Ohta, 2000; Pavlenko & Lantolf, 2000). These studies elaborates on the use of interactive negotiation by individualized input and output is enough to gain mastery of a second language. It is believed that learning is focused on how one interacts with another.
Language has always been used to be able to socialize with another . ( Lee, 2004). It is used to be able to form collaboration with each other. They help each other and answer each one’s query. Vygotsky (1978) writes that
“ social interaction fosters the individual’s performance through the zone of proximal development (ZPD)–the distance between what they can achieve by themselves and what they can achieve with assistance from others. Individuals who have knowledge and skills at a higher level assist those who are less capable or know less.. Social interaction actually produces new, elaborate, advanced psychological processes that are unavailable to the organism working in isolation” (p. 61).
In this process, the student are able to expand what is known as linguistic and cognitie skills so that the will be able to address problem solving situations. Different researches support this as they found out that language learning resulted in the formation of ZPD.
(Brooks, 1992; Ohta, 1995; Swain & Lapkin, 1998). Furthermore, it was shown that L2 is being developed in these ZPD’s.
Foreign Second Language
There are different factors that causes difference in foreign second language acquisition. Students revealed that cognitive variables affect this namely study habits of the individuals, their cognitive capabilities and even their language aptitude. Others view it in terms of their affective domain. They believe that their self perception and anxiety affects their capabilities to learn. Research also shows that one’s sense of individualism and locus of control contributes to possible acquisition of a foreign language. Others still maintain that demographic factors such as knowledge of the previous language and learned is the most influential.
One of the difficulty of learning a foreign language, in this case, Spanish is based on the “native-language learning” in trying to familiarize oneself with the phonological, syntactic and semantic code of the new language. (Sparks and Ganshow, 1991,1993a-b). It is believed that whatever anxiety that is felt by the student in learning a new language is just an aftermath of their experience to learn.
In another study that these authors performed, they found out that that the student’s own perception of how easy or hard the foreign language learning is. Students who enroll themselves in such classes already have a preconceived notion as to how to accomplish a specific task. (Horwitz, 1990). Negative outlook and expectations has been instilled on these students because their foreign language skills in communication both oral and in writing have prevented them to reach academic achievement.
In this domain, the primary predictor is language anxiety. There is a strong correlation in terms of foreign language anxiety to the performance in oral examinations (Phillips, 1992) and to the production of vocabulary (Gardner, Moorcroft, & MacIntyre, 1987). The confidence that a student exudes is directly related to the proficiency of learning a new language. High levels of confidence means higher motivation to learn a new language.
. Personality Variables
In the study conducted by Lalonde and Gardner (1984), for example, 18 personality measures taken from the Jackson Personality Inventory (Jackson, 1974) were used. It was found that the only significant relationship was a negative one between innovation, a characteristic of persons who value new ideas, and achievement.
Other personality variables such as social interdependence have found its way in the learning context of foreign language. In some cases, students who wish to learn a new language are faced with the continuous evaluation of the instructor. They now feel that they are always pitted with other students.
The concept of locus of control is the perception of a individual to attribute his success and failures either to himself or to the behavior of others. As such, there will be times that they feel that they are losing control in terms of their acquisition of a new language.(Price, 1999)
According to the study conducted by Liberman (1984), it was noted that:
“…the ability to acquire mastery of the fine points of language, such as phonology and morphology, as well as the capacity to speak a second language without an accent, deteriorates severely with age. Moreover, it is possible that older adults perform more poorly than do their younger counterparts on a variety of cognitive tasks in which a quick response is needed–as is often the case when learning a foreign language–in part because of situational and motivational variables that are extraneous to ability.
Age also influences one’s reluctance to pronounce, translate or even write words in
the target second language. Older students has the tendency to omit more words that commit mistakes in using these words. This is also the reason why language anxiety is more felt by those belonging to the older generation.
Another factor that contributes to the difference in learning strategies is gender difference. Women are more attuned to the metacognitive technique. This involves planning, evaluation and organizing the knowledge that they wish to obtain. They also utilize their feelings and motivation as well as their capability of socializing. Women are also found to have better listening skills than men (Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991). In another study, it was found that women tend to achieve more in terms of learning a new language. This is because the language centers are said to be found in the left hemisphere in men rather that globally represented in women.
Grammatical Gender Acquisition in Spanish
In Spanish, just like in any other language, gender assignment is quite common. Gender assignment is the process of using a specific noun or nominal to denote a category, in this case as masculine, feminine or neuter. This on the other hand affects the noun phrase construction. It should be with agreement with the other figures of speech like the adjectives and determiners used.
In the study of Corbett (1991) he observed that the different way of classifiying a specific word based on gender is actually in accordance to the biological sex. This criterion is known as genero neutral in Spanish however has an indirect role in the actual assignment of words. Some nouns are treated with gender based on a n assigned characteristic that is associated to a masculine and feminine characteristic. For example, the word “plogue” is assumed to be masculine in nature. Its “manly” connotation is that the “plug” is the end of the electrical cord while the feminine aspect is the outlet.
In Spanish grammar, only the nouns and nominals for animate objects are given gender assignment as masculine and feminine. The neuter gender are only stated as pronouns. There are different ways of how to classify a word based on their gender. There are, however, some existing rules and restrictions namely:
1. biological sex is taken into consideration prior to the phonological shape of the noun in animate objects
2. the presence of a derivational suffix
3. the terminal phoneme(s)
4. the gender of its Spanish synonym
5. the gender of its Spanish hyperonym
For inanimate objects, in assigning their gender roles, the following are taken into consideration: (Smead, 2000)
1. Diachronic variation – this involves changing the assignment from feminine to masculine
2. Diatopic/diastractic variation- this involves gender assignment based on regional or social considerations
3. Homophony – this involves giving gender assignments to pairs of words with the same phonological form
4. Ellipsis of Metonomy – this involves the associated term which determines gender assignment
Grammatical Gender Assignments
In determining the effectiveness of the gender assignments in the Spanish language, different studies have been conducted. Natalico (1983), in her study was able to establish the effectiveness of the use of Bull’s rule. The subjects were able to classify the gender of 85% of the masculine nouns and 76% of the feminine ones. Bull’s classification relies on the endings. He had established that nouns which ends in –d and –sis and –it is are associated with the feminine gender.
Other researchers focused on how an individual is able to deduce the gender of a given word. In the study conducted by Polpacl (1982), three factors were identified to be used in determining the gender of the words. These are physiological gender, phonological gender, and analogical order. The order given is the same order that the subjects followed. This study involves phonological integration. In some cases where there is no integration mentioned, the subject assigns it as the masculine gender.
Banfield (1994) in his study used visuals as his stimuli. He found out that most of the subjects are more accustomed to assigning the male gender. He was able to prove that both phonological shape and analogical gender was the basis of their assignments.
Sanchez (1995) was able to determine other factors of choosing a specific gender. She notes that the masculine gender is used as the default in assigning. Aside from this, she observed that the gender of the translation equivalent and its hyponym is the basis. The example that se cited is the word “deporte”which translates to sport is associated with men, deporte is then is assigned the masculine gender.
Galvan and Cobo’s Grammatical Gender Assignment
There are many rules to follow in assigning gender to nouns. The most common of these are those that were used by Galvan and Cobo. As mentioned earlier, one of the basis of choosing a gender is primarily the biological gender of the word. This is evident in the sample words mentioned in the study conducted by Smead (2000)
Table 1. Biological Sex Referent and Gender Assignment
Source Masculine Examples Feminine Example
Cobos buquipa (book keeper) granma (grandma)
charque/sharque (shark, hustler) guaina (wino)
petrol(ino) (highway patrol) jaina (girl friend)
Galvan boi escout (boy scout) beibisira (babysitter)
bos guaifa (boss) huifa (wife)
guachiman (night watchman) ofendora (juvenile offender)
Based on the given information, it can be observed that Galvan’s words show more similarity to the English base words for both the masculine and feminine gender. It could also be noted that some of the words that acquires the male gender are those which are traditional roles played like petrolino and bos giaifa for the male and beibisira for the female token.
The next factor that was mentioned is the derivational suffix. A summary of the words used in the study of Smead (2000) that uses this classification is given in Table 2:
Table 2: Terminal Phenome(s) vs Terminal Morpheme
Ending Status Gender Assigned Counterexample
-n Phonemic Masc. imagen ‘image’
-on Phonemic Masc. razon ‘reason’
-ion Phonemic Fem. sarampion ‘measles’
-cion Morphemic Fem. None
-e Phonemic Masc. calle ‘street’
-mbre Phonemic Masc. hambre ‘hunger’
-dumhre Morphemic Fem. None
-d Phonemic Fem. cesped ‘grass, lawn’
-dad/-tad Morphemic Fem. None
Based on the study that was conducted, it can be observed that the terminal phonemes are not able to identify the gender. The entire morphemic sequence on the other hand is more flexible. This means that most of the terminal phonemes are assigned to one specific gender. Based also on the data gathered /-a/ is considered a feminine marker, /-o/ correlates to the masculine gender.
Inanimate objects generally are assigned to the masculine gender. Based on the data gathered, words that end in NORSEL are attributed to the masculine gender while A-D-ION-S corresponds to the feminine gender. Table 3 and shows some examples used in the study of Snead (2000) for both the Cobos and Galvan Spanish words:
Table 3. Masculine Terminal Phonemes
TP Cobos Galvan
-n fon (fun ) balun ( balloon)
ton (ton) tochdaun (touchdown)
-o dipo (depot) jaipo (syringe)
jando (handout) caucho (sofa)
-r estiquer (sticker) quemper (camper)
treilar (trailer) securer (scooter)
‘ -s cabus (caboose) fius (fuse)
Veils (valise) rices (recess)
-e bonque (bunk ) diche (ditch)
dompe (dump) sinque (sink)
-l guinchil (windshield) guafol (waffle)
sacarol (sucker rod) suiminpul (swimming pool)
Table 4. Feminine Terminal A-D-ION-IS
TP Cobos Galvan
-a baica (bike) laira (lighter)
cuilta (quilt) boila (boiler)
ploga (plug) dona (doughnut)
cuara (quarter) chahua (shower)
-d raid (ride). raund (round)
It can be noticed that many TP’s do not appear for the feminine TP’s.
Another study (Prado) have showed enough data that in a Spanish language, the masculine remains to be the default. From the presented data, the Galvin method of assigning gender is more socially integrated and at the same time more bilingual in nature than the Cobos.
The third factor which is the basis of Spanish classification of gender is the synonymic gender that is being used by Galvan. To clearly illustrate this, table 5 summarizes some of the common examples used.
Table 5. Synonymic Gender in Galvan
Synonym (m.) Examples Synonym (f.) Examples
calenton (heater) jira congeladora friser (freezer.)
arrancador (starter motor) estara bicicleta bike
silenciador (muffler mofla coca cola couc coke
ardin de ninos (kindergarden) quinda leche milque kindegarden
Synonymic words are often assigned with the gender of its equivalent words Hyperonymic gender on the other hand does not function in Spanish.
Cobos was not able to provide example synonymic gender. This was explained by Cobos himself in his work (1983).
“The lack of a continuous, day-to-day contact with the people of Mexico
throughout the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, together with a
dearth of books, dictionaries and other reading material, stagnated and
impoverished the Spanish of the colonists. Many times these people could not
recall the name of a particular article and had no recourse but to coin a new term.
This indicates that synonymic gender are influential in the Spanish vocabulary as whole but the vocabulary of the region already gives its translation equivalent.
Grammatical gender assignment in Spanish are often attributed to three main factors namely: biological gender, terminal phonemes, synonymic gender. Learning Spanish as a second language is less difficult for those whose first language is in English. This is because there are a lot of similarity in the Spanish terms that is used by native English. Most often than not the gender of these words are formed based on their English translation.
Foreign Language Acquisition is more intensified if this is coupled with social
Interaction. As such the different techniques that can be applied should be based on cooperative learning to ensure that language is learned, used, and practiced.
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