Grammatical gender marking in additional-language French and Spanish before, during and after a stay abroad
According to many authors, acquiring the ability to express grammatical gender in an additional language (AL) is often “notoriously difficult” (Lyster, 2006, p. 71, with respect to French), particularly for speakers whose native language does not instantiate grammatical gender (Costa et al. 2003). This morphosyntactic phenomenon has moreover attracted the attention of numerous researchers in the field of second language acquisition, who have identified various linguistic and extralinguistic factors thought to influence the expression of gender. However, these previous studies have largely focused on one or a small number of these factors, leaving open the question of if and how they interact with one another to explain gender-marking behavior. Moreover, the bulk of previous research on gender marking in an AL has taken a cross-sectional approach; given the often non-linear nature of development and variation among individuals, taking a long view on the development of gender expression has the potential to provide new insights into the “longitudinal pace and pattern of development” (Ortega & Byrnes, 2008, p. 3).
In this talk, I will report on collaborative research (conducted with Aarnes Gudmestad) in which we have built on insights from previous research in order to analyze the longitudinal development of gender-marking behavior in AL French and in AL Spanish with respect to a wide range of potentially influential factors. Both analyses were carried out on the longitudinal LANGSNAP corpus (Mitchell, Tracy-Ventura, & McManus, 2017). This publicly available corpus contains data from British learners of Spanish (n= 27) and French (n= 29) who were followed over a period of 21 months, including an academic year spent in a target language community. Oral and written data were collected from these participants six times; in the context of the current project, data from three of the six data-collection periods have been analyzed in order to identify all instances of either a determiner or an adjective modifying a referent. In total, more than 16,000 tokens in AL Spanish and 14,000 tokens in AL French were coded for a wide set of factors identified in previous research as influencing gender-marking behavior. Generalized linear mixed models were carried out on the datasets from the two languages in order to identify which linguistic and extralinguistic factors worked in concert to significantly predict target-like use of gender marking. In addition, for each significant effect, a possible interaction with time was explored in order to identify how the learners’ gender-marking system may change over the course of 21 months. Taken together, the results from these two analyses contribute to our understanding of gender-marking expression by characterizing the complex interplay among predictive factors and how this interplay changes over time.