Agarra, agarran: Evidence of early comprehension of subject-verb agreement in Spanish

J Exp Child Psychol. 2017 Aug;160:33-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2017.02.010. Epub 2017 Apr 17.


Studies across many languages (e.g., Dutch, English, Farsi, Spanish, Xhosa) have failed to show early acquisition of subject-verb (SV) agreement, whereas recent studies on French reveal acquisition by 30months of age. Using a similar procedure as in previous French studies, the current study evaluated whether earlier comprehension of SV agreement in (Mexican) Spanish can be revealed when task demands are lowered. Two experiments using a touch-screen pointing task tested comprehension of SV agreement by monolingual Spanish-speaking children growing up in Mexico City between about 3 and 5years of age. In Experiment 1, the auditory stimuli consisted of a transitive verb+pseudonoun object (e.g., agarra el micho 'he throws the micho' vs. agarran el duco 'they throw the duco'); results failed to show early comprehension of SV agreement, replicating previous findings. In Experiment 2, the same stimuli were used, with the crucial difference that the word objeto 'object' replaced all pseudonouns; results revealed SV agreement comprehension as early as 41 to 50months. Taken together, our findings show that comprehension at this age is facilitated when task demands are lowered, here by not requiring children to process pseudowords (even when these were not critical to the task). Hence, these findings underscore the importance of task-specific/stimulus-specific features when testing early morphosyntactic development and suggest that previous results may have underestimated Spanish-speaking children's competence.

Keywords: Language acquisition; Language comprehension; Language production; Morphology; Subject–verb agreement; Syntax.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Child
  • Comprehension*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development*
  • Male
  • Mexico