Western Papers in Linguistics / Cahiers linguistiques de Western

Article Title

Gender Assignment to Lexical Borrowings by Heritage Speakers of Arabic


This study aims to deepen our understanding of the expression of gender in heritage speakers of Arabic by distinguishing gender assignment from gender agreement with lexical borrowings. Studies on the assignment of gender to lexical borrowings (Mustafawi, 2002; Moshref, 2010; AL-Saidat, 2011) in monolingual Arabic speakers have shown that speakers rely on (morpho)-phonological endings. That is, lexical items ending in [-a] are to be assigned the feminine gender, while lexical borrowings that lack the [-a] ending are assigned the masculine gender. Here, we investigate gender assignment to lexical borrowings by Arabic heritage speakers to find out whether this group assigns gender using the mechanisms used by monolingually raised speakers, and to detect any patterns that heritage speakers follow when assigning gender to loanwords. The instrument we used consisted of a linguistic background questionnaire, an oral production task, a grammaticality judgment task, a gender assignment task, and a translation task. Results from 23 participants (15 heritage speakers) suggest a strong tendency by heritage speakers towards assigning loanwords to the masculine gender, especially in the absence of the [-a] ending, which supports the hypothesis that regards the masculine gender as the unmarked or the default gender (Greenberg, 1966; Albirini, Benmamoun & Saadah, 2011; Albirini, Benmamoun & Chakrani, 2013). The findings also suggest that heritage speakers’ sensitivity to morphophonological cues may be susceptible to the type of task.

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