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Title: Grammatical gender processing in French as a first and second language
Author: Foucart, Alice
ISNI:       0000 0004 2726 8568
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2008
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The present thesis investigates grammatical gender processing in French as a first and second language. It focuses mainly on whether non-native speakers can achieve native-like representation and processing of gender, and whether the native language (L1) influences the acquisition of the second language (L2). Theoretical linguistic models have made two contrasting assumptions concerning the ability of late bilinguals to acquire grammatical gender in their L2. While some models propose that grammatical features, such as gender, are no longer available for L2 acquisition if they are not present in L1 (Hawkins & Chan, 1997), others assume that these features are still available via the universal grammar if required in the L2 (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1996; White, 1989, 2003). These assumptions, however, are supported only by off-line studies and do not provide a comprehensive account for gender representation and processing. The present thesis uses online techniques to address these questions both in language comprehension and language production. The first chapters are devoted to comprehension processes and examined French native speakers, English-French and German-French bilinguals’ performance during the processing of correct and syntactically anomalous sentences, using ERPs and eye-movements to record behaviour. We concluded that, like native speakers, English-French bilinguals are sensitive to gender agreement violations. Thus, we argue that late bilinguals are able to acquire the gender system of their L2 even if this grammatical feature is not present in their L1. On the other hand, the performance of the German speakers we tested suggests that the presence of a competing gender system in the native language may hamper gender acquisition in L2. The influence of the native language may vary, however, according to both proficiency and how gender systems map across languages, as suggest the results we obtained with Spanish bilinguals tested in language production. In a second series of experiments, we examined determiner selection in French to further investigate gender representation and processing, but in language production. Using a picture-word interference paradigm, we compared the production of simple and complex noun phrases (NP) in French native speakers, English-French and Spanish-French bilinguals. From our results, we argue that gender representation is similar in L1 and L2, but that gender processing is less incremental in non-native speakers in that they do not compute agreement between the noun and other elements of the NP as automatically as native speakers do. The absence of interference between the two gender systems of the Spanish-French bilinguals we tested suggests that the gender systems of the two languages may be autonomous in highly proficient bilinguals. Our results suggest that highly proficient bilinguals can reach native-like representation and processing of gender in their L2 and that such is not constrained by either the age of onset of learning or the grammar of the learners L1.
Supervisor: Branigan, Holly. ; Bard, Ellen G. ; Frenck-Mestre, Cheryl. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Psychology ; grammatical gender processing ; French language ; Linguistics