Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
In This Section

The Linguistic Review

Editor-in-Chief: Hulst, Harry

4 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR 2016: 0.676
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.831

CiteScore 2016: 0.52

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2015: 0.662
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2015: 0.573

See all formats and pricing
In This Section
Volume 32, Issue 4 (Dec 2015)


The differential representation of number and gender in Spanish

Zuzanna Fuchs
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Linguistics, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
  • Email:
/ Maria Polinsky
  • Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
/ Gregory Scontras
  • Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
Published Online: 2015-11-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlr-2015-0008


This paper investigates the geometry of phi-features, with a special emphasis on number and gender in Spanish. We address two sets of questions: (i) are number and gender bundled together or do they constitute separate categories, and (ii) does the internal feature composition of number and gender follow a single- or a multi-valued system? Given the lack of consensus on these issues based on primary data, we approach these questions experimentally, using the phenomenon of agreement attraction: a situation in which ungrammatical sequences are perceived as grammatical when one of the NPs is erroneously identified as determining agreement. Our results offer novel support in favor of an agreement model in which number and gender are in separte projections and are valued independently. In addition, our results indicate that number but not gender in Spanish is multi-valued.

Keywords: agreement; phi-features; number; gender; feature geometry; small clauses; Spanish; agreement attraction; comprehension


  • Alarcón, Irma Veronica. 2006. The second language acquisition of Spanish gender agreement: The effects of linguistic variables on accuracy. Munich: Lincom Europa.

  • Alcocer, Pedro & Colin Phillips. 2009. A cross-language reversal in illusory agreement licensing. Poster Presented at the 22nd Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, University of California, Davis.

  • Antón-Méndez, Inés, Janet L. Nicol & Merrill F. Garrett. 2002. The relation between gender and number agreement processing. Syntax 5. 1–25.

  • Antón-Méndez, Maria Inés. 1999. Gender and number: Agreement processing in Spanish. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona dissertation.

  • Baker, Mark. 2008. The syntax of agreement and concord. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Bateman, Nicoleta & Maria Polinsky. 2010. Romanian as a two-gender language. In D. Gerdts, J Moore & Maria Polinsky (eds.), Hypothesis a/hypothesis b, 41–77. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Becker, Michal & Jonathan Levine. 2010. Experigen: An online experiment platform. https://github.com/tlozoot/experigen (Accessed 10 December, 2012).

  • Bobaljik, Jonathan & Cynthia Zocca. 2011. Gender markedness: The anatomy of a counter-example. Morphology 21. 141–166.

  • Bock, Kathryn, Manuel Carreiras & Enrique Meseguer. 2012. Number meaning and number agreement in English and Spanish. Journal of Memory and Language 66. 17–37.

  • Bock, Kathryn & J. Cooper Cutting. 1992. Regulating mental energy: Performance units in langauge production. Journal of Memory and Language 31. 99–127.

  • Bock, Kathryn & K. Eberhard. 1993. Meaning, sound, and syntax in English number agreement. Language and Cognitive Processes 8. 57–99.

  • Bock, Kathryn, K. Eberhard, J. Cooper Cutting, Antje S. Meyer & Herbert Schriefers. 2001. Some attractions of verb agreement. Cognitive Psychology 43. 83–128.

  • Bock, Kathryn & Carol A. Miller. 1991. Broken agreement. Cognitive Psychology 23. 45–93.

  • Bull, William. 1965. Spanish for teachers: Applied linguistics. New York: Ronald Press.

  • Carminati, Maria Nella. 2005. Processing reflexes of the Feature Hierarchy (person > number > gender) and implications for linguistic theory. Lingua 115. 259–285.

  • Carstens, Vicki. 2000. Concord in minimalist theory. Linguistic Inquiry 31. 319–355.

  • Carstens, Vicki. 2003. Rethinking complementizer agreement: Agree with a case-checked goal. Linguistic Inquiry 34. 393–412.

  • Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The minimalist program. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Contreras, Heles. 1987. Small clauses in Spanish and English. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 5. 225–243.

  • Demonte, Violeta. 1988. Remarks on secondary predicates: C-command, extraction and reanalysis. The Linguistic Review 6. 1–39.

  • Despiante, Marcela & Pascual Masullo. 2001. Género y número en la elipsis nominal: Consecuencias para la hopótesis lexicalista. Paper presented at the I Encuentro de Gramática Generativa, Universidad Nacional del Comahue.

  • Domínguez, Alberto, Fernando Cuetos & Juan Segui. 1999. The processing of grammatical gender and number in Spanish. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 28. 485–498.

  • Franck, Julie, Glenda Lassi, Ulrich H. Frauenfelder & Luigi Rizzi. 2006. Agreement and movement: A syntactic analysis of attraction. Cognition 101. 173–216.

  • Franck, Julie, Gabriella Vigliocco & Janet Nicol. 2002. Subject-verb agreement errors in French and English: The role of syntactic hierarchy. Language and Cognitive Processes 17. 371–404.

  • Greenberg, Joseph. 1966. Language universals. The Hague: Mouton.

  • Haegeman, Liliane, Ángel L. Jiménez-Fernández & Andrew Radford. 2014. Deconstructing the subject condition in terms of cumulative constraint violation. The Linguistic Review 31. 73–150.

  • Harley, Heidi & Elizabeth Ritter. 2002. Person and number in pronouns: A feature-geometric analysis. Language 78. 482–526.

  • Harris, James. 1991. The exponence of gender in Spanish. Linguistic Inquiry 22. 27–62.

  • Hartsuiker, Robert J., Herbert J. Schriefers, Kathryn Bock & Gerdien M. Kikstra. 2003. Morphophonological influences on the construction of subject-verb agreement. Memory and Cognition 31. 1316–1326.

  • Jiménez-Fernández, Ángel & Vassilios Spyropoulos. 2013. Feature inheritance, vP phrases and the information structure of small clauses. Studia Linguistica 67. 185–224.

  • Kluender, Robert. 2004. Are subject islands subject to a processing constraint? In Vineeta Chand, Ann Kelleher, Angelo J. Rodriguez & Benjamin Schmeiser (eds.), West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL) 23, 101–125. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.

  • Kornfeld, Laura & Andrés Saab. 2002. Nominal ellipsis and morphological structure in Spanish. In Reineke Bok-Benneman (ed.), Romance languages and linguistic theory 2002: Selected papers from Going Romance, 183–199. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Kramer, Ruth. 2009. Definite markers, phi-features, and agreement: A morphosyntactic investigation of the Amharic DP. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California dissertation.

  • Kramer, Ruth. 2013. Gender in Amharic: A morphosyntactic approach to natural and grammatical gender. Language Sciences 43. 102–115.

  • Levelt, W. J. M. 1989. Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Lorimor, Heidi, Kathryn Bock, Ekaterina Zalkind, Alina Sheyman & Robert Beard. 2008. Agreement and attraction in Russian. Language and Cognitive Processes 23. 769–799.

  • Matushansky, Ora. 2013. Gender confusion. In Lisa Lai-Shen Cheng & Norbert Corver (eds.), Diagnosing syntax, 271–294. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Merchant, Jason. 2014. Gender mismatches under nominal ellipsis. Lingua 151. 9–32.

  • Pesetsky, David & Esther Torrego. 2007. The syntax of valuation and the interpretability of features. In Simin Karimi, Vida Samiian & Wendy K. Wilkins (eds.), Phrasal and clausal architecture: Syntactic derivation and interpretation, 262–294. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Phillips, Colin. 2013. Some arguments and non-arguments for reductionist accounts of syntactic phenomena. Language and Cognitive Processes 28. 156–187.

  • Picallo, María Carmen. 1991. Nominals and nominalization in Catalan. Probus 3. 279–316.

  • Pillot, Carl, Gregory Scontras & Lauren Clemens. 2012. ExperigenRT: Measure reaction times in web-based auditory experiments. http://pollab.fas.harvard.edu/?q=node/212 (Accessed 10 December, 2012).

  • Preminger, Omer. 2014. Agreement and its failures. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Ritter, Elizabeth. 1993. Where’s gender? Linguistic Inquiry 24. 795–803.

  • Roca, Iggy M. 1989. The organisation of grammatical gender. Transactions of the Philological Society 87. 1–32.

  • Saab, Andrés. 2008. Hacia una teora de la identidad parcial en la elipsis: University of Buenos Aires dissertation.

  • Saab, Andrés. 2010. (im)possible deletions in the Spanish DP. Iberia 2. 45–83.

  • Sauerland, Uli. 2003. A new semantics for number. In Robert B. Young & Yuping Zhou (eds.), Semantics and linguistic theory (SALT) 13. 258–275. Ithaca, NY: CLC Publications.

  • Sauerland, Uli, Jan Anderssen & Kazuko Yatsushiro. 2005. The plural is semantically unmarked. In Stephan Kesper & Marga Reis (eds.), Linguistic evidence: Empirical, theoretical and computational perspectives, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

  • Schultze-Berndt, Eva & Nikolaus P. Himmelmann. 2004. Depictive secondary predicates in crosslinguistic perspective. Linguistic Typology 8. 59–131.

  • Scontras, Gregory. 2013a. Accounting for counting: A unified semantics for measure terms and classifiers. In Todd Snider (ed.), Proceedings of SALT 23. 549–569.

  • Scontras, Gregory. 2013b. A unified semantics for number marking, numerals, and nominal structure. In Emmanuel Chemla, Vincent Homer & Grégoire Winterstein (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 17. 545–562.

  • Scontras, Gregory, Maria Polinsky & Zuzanna Fuchs. 2013. Agreement mismatches in Spanish. http://hdl.handle.net/1902.1/21954 (Accessed 23 July, 2013); Harvard Dataverse Network V3.

  • Spector, Benjamin. 2007. Aspects of the pragmatics of plural morphology: On higher-order implicatures. In Uli Sauerland & Penka Stateva (eds.), Presuppositions and implicatures in compositional semantics, 243–281. Hampshire & New York: Palgrave-Macmillan.

  • Steriopolo, Olga & Martina Wiltschko. 2008. Distributed GENDER hypothesis. Paper presented at FDSL 7.5, Independent University of Moscow.

  • Tiogang, Issacar Nguendjo. 2015. Las cuestiones del género y del número de los neologismos léxicos en el español de Guinea Ecuatorial. Tonos Digital 28.

  • Vigliocco, Gabriella, Brian Butterworth & Merrill F. Garrett. 1996. Subject-verb agreement in Spanish and English: Differences in the role of conceptual constraints. Cognition 61. 261–298.

  • Vigliocco, Gabriella, Brian Butterworth & Carlo Semenza. 1995. Constructing subject-verb agreement in speech: The role of semantic and morphological factors. Journal of Memory and Language 34. 186–215.

  • Vigliocco, Gabriella & Julie Franck. 1999. When sex and syntax go hand in hand: Gender agreement and languauge production. Journal of Memory and Language 40. 455–478.

  • Vigliocco, Gabriella & Janet Nicol. 1998. Separating hierarchical relations and word order in language production: Is proximity concord syntactic or linear? Cognition 68. B13–B29. [Crossref]

  • Warren, Tessa & Edward Gibson. 2002. The influence of referential processing on sentence complexity. Cognition 85. 79–112.

About the article

Published Online: 2015-11-27

Published in Print: 2015-12-01

Citation Information: The Linguistic Review, ISSN (Online) 1613-3676, ISSN (Print) 0167-6318, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlr-2015-0008. Export Citation

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in