The acquisition of noun-adjective gender agreement in Italian and Croatian: A comparative study
This research investigates whether there are any timing differences in the acquisition of noun-adjective gender agreement in Italian and Croatian. These languages differ in two important ways: firstly, Italian has gender-marked articles that are an important cue for the gender paradigm, while Croatian does not make use of articles. Secondly, the gender systems of these two languages differ with respect to the number of genders; Italian makes a two-way gender distinction while Croatian has a three-way gender system. Both gender systems are considered to be relatively transparent.
Our hypothesis is that the lack of the frequent gender cue (the gender-marked article) in Croatian makes it more difficult for children to master gender agreement. Also, acquiring a three-way gender system should require more time than a two-way gender system. Croatian children might therefore acquire the gender paradigm later than Italian children.
We have tested two age groups of Italian (average ages 3,0 and 3,10) and Croatian (average ages 2,10 and 4,2) monolingual children in order to see if there were any differences regarding the dynamics of mastering the gender paradigm. Our results suggest that the achievement of correct noun-adjective gender agreement had different timings for the Italian-speaking children and the Croatian-speaking children. There is no statistically significant difference between the two Italian age groups while the two Croatian age groups shows a statistically significant difference. So, given that an improvement in the older Croatian language group can be noted, it could be asserted that at an average age of 2,10 years the Croatian children are still in the process of acquiring noun-adjective gender agreement while the Italian children have already mastered it. Our results imply that the hypothesis has been confirmed: the different gender paradigm features of Italian and Croatian influence the timings of the noun-adjective gender agreement mastery in the two language groups.
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