Doctoral Dissertation Research: Cross-language interaction of grammatical gender: Investigating L2-to-L1 influence

Project: Research project

Project Details


In the world today there are more bilinguals than monolinguals, and in the United States bilingualism is on the rise. However, bilingualism is dynamic and can vary between populations as well as within individual speakers. For example, bilinguals can vary in the relative proficiency between each of their languages, the environments in which they encounter each language, and the frequency with which they use each language. The current study investigates how such factors can have an impact on the cognitive processing of grammatical information in bilinguals and how bilingual language processing may vary according to the social, linguistic, and environmental contexts of the speaker.

Evidence has shown that during bilingual speech production, both languages are activated and interact with each other. The goal of the present study is to look at how sociolinguistic, environmental, and linguistic factors influence cross-language interaction among bilingual populations. Specifically, this study investigates how German-Italian bilingual speakers process grammatical gender information in each of their languages to measure the amount of interaction between the first (L1) and second (L2) languages. When the two languages of a bilingual contain grammatical gender, it is often the case that L1 words are assigned a different gender than the corresponding L2 word (e.g., 'flower' is feminine in German but masculine in Italian). L1 German-L2 Italian bilinguals will complete a series of tasks in which they name images in each of their languages. Naming times will reveal whether bilinguals are faster to name images when the gender is congruent between German and Italian than when it is incongruent. Naming in both languages allows for the comparison the amount of L1-to-L2 and L2-to-L1 interaction within the same speakers. In the first experiment, images will be presented in isolation, while in the second experiment images will appear within a sentence context, to determine whether cross-language interaction is reduced when participants are reading in just one language. The effect of language environment on cross-language interaction will be measured by comparing South Tyrolean participants currently living in a bilingual environment (South Tyrol) to the same population of speakers who live in an L1-dominant environment (Austria). Results will enhance our understanding of the dynamic nature of bilingualism not only with regard to South Tyrolean bilinguals, but to similar speakers living in bilingual populations in the United States and around the world.

Effective start/end date7/1/146/30/16


  • National Science Foundation: $15,063.00


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