PhD Research School in Linguistics and Philology

Silje Ragnhildstveit

Acquisition of gender and L1 transfer in Norwegian as a second language

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In this PhD-project the main problem for discussion is how second language learners of Norwegian acquire grammatical gender and if and how the mother tongue influences the acquisition. In second language research the role of the mother tongue (also called crosslinguistic influence and transfer) has changed from explaining the whole second language acquisition process, to mean almost nothing. Nowadays, we know that transfer is at play in a complex interaction with other factors.

The ASKeladden-project – A corpus-based approach to L1 transfer in Norwegian learner language, which my project is a part of, seeks to find new knowledge about transfer, and in a cognitive perspective we want to understand how languages influence each other in the brain, trying to investigate both linguistic transfer of mother tongue forms and structures and conceptual transfer of mental concepts that underlies this forms and structures.

My Phd-project is a further development of my master thesis about transfer and gender assignment, that is about giving gender so nouns. In the PhD-project I will investigate how second language learners of Norwegian deal with gender agreement in extended noun phrases. To uncover transfer I compare language data from learners with mother tongues that are different according to grammatical gender: German, Spanish and Vietnamese. My hypothesis is that the Vietnamese learners have more difficulties with gender agreement than the German and Spanish learners. Because the Vietnamese learners have an isolating mother tongue without agreement, while the German and Spanish learners have a synthetic mother tongue with agreement.

I also address the question if acquiring gender is a problem of pattern detection, and if second language learners with a mother tongue without agreement (Vietnamese) may not discover the gender agreement pattern in the noun phrase, while the learners with a mother tongue with agreement (German and Spanish) may discover the gender agreement pattern and can use it as a cue to get the agreement pattern correct.

When it comes to the question of conceptual transfer and gender, I will test if the gender of nouns in L1 influences second language learners mental representations of objects.

The electronic Norwegian second language learner corpus, Norsk andrespråkskorpus (ASK), is the main source of data, but in addition I will use two different experimental tests to investigate the question about pattern detection and conceptual transfer.

Ragnhildstveit works at the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic studies.