[lg policy] dissertation: Morphology in Bilingual Language Processing: The role of second language proficiency in acquiring grammatical gender

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 20 14:43:43 UTC 2010

Morphology in Bilingual Language Processing: The role of second
language proficiency in acquiring grammatical gender

Institution: Pennsylvania State University
Program: Cognitive Psychology
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Susan C. Bobb

Dissertation Title: Morphology in Bilingual Language Processing: The
role of second language proficiency in acquiring grammatical gender

Dissertation Director:
Carrie N. Jackson
Judith F Kroll

Dissertation Abstract:

The goal of the present study was to further clarify constraints to
language learning and help address questions about L2 learning that
have not yet been fully resolved. The experiments examined the
degree to which L2 learners and proficient bilinguals are able to fully
access grammatical and morphological features of the L2. The specific
aim of the study was to identify the ability of intermediate and advanced
English-German bilinguals to comprehend the assignment of
grammatical gender and to interpret the meaning of compounds.
Grammatical gender is a feature that is typically considered difficult to
acquire in the L2. Particularly for those whose native language does
not mark gender, such as English, the question has been raised
whether full acquisition of gender can take place and under which

Experiment 1 set out to investigate the sensitivity of English-German
and German-English L2 learners to grammatical gender and introduced
the paradigm of translation recognition with simple nouns as a way to
investigate gender processing. Results indicated that English-German
participants had particular difficulties in rejecting correct noun
translations with the wrong gender, and proficiency did not modulate
these effects. In contrast, German-English participants showed robust
gender effects, in which participants took longer to reject wrong
translations whose gender matched the gender of the correct
translation compared to translations whose gender did not match that
of the correct translation. Results suggest that native speakers of
German are sensitive to gender matches and mismatches across
translations, and leave open the possibility that L2 learners of German
who achieve native-like language competency may eventually begin to
show sensitivity to gender using this task. Data from event-related
potentials with English-German participants corroborated these
findings, showing no statistical support for sensitivity to gender in noun
processing, and underscoring the sensitivity of L2 learners of German
to semantics in translation. Data from a metalinguistic gender
assignment task, however, suggested that both English-German L2
learners and German-English L2 learners were sensitive to the
phonological gender distribution in German, and L2 learners of
German may use these distributions as a way to behaviorally
approximate native-like gender use. In a final step, morphological
processing in compounding was investigated, and results for both
language groups revealed sensitivity in processing internal gender
agreement in compounds, although the pattern of data were not in the
predicted direction.

Together, the results of these experiments confirm previous results on
the difficulty of L2 gender processing in German (e.g., e.g., Sabourin,
Stowe, & de Haan, 2006) and also appear to show dissociations
between tasks that require more automatic processing and those that
are under the participant's control.


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