Motion at the linguistic border

On the influence of language dominance and language mode on the expression of motion in bilinguals (French-German)
Multilingualism in individuals
Project management:
01.2014 to 12.2017
In progress

Swiss National Science Foundation, Project funding, project no. 156121, 2014 - 2017

In the past 30 years, research on the linguistic expression of spatial relations has shed light on systematic structural and lexical differences between languages. One such difference concerns how some Romance and Germanic languages (e.g. French and German) describe how figures move in space. Whilst languages like French tend to express the path of movement by means of finite verbs, in German, uninflected elements such as verbal prefixes, adverbs or prepositions perform this function. Although this difference is gradual rather than categorical, it does appear to have far-reaching consequences: As demonstrated in a number of empirical studies, the type of information normally expressed in both languages is fundamentally different. Several studies have investigated the consequences of the differences in expressing space has on learning and using two typologically different languages.

This research project, however, focuses on two previously unexplored, yet interrelated research questions. The first issue concerns how various dominance relations between French and German in a bilingual individual effect the linguistic expression of spatial relations. The main goal is to identify whether and exactly how the dominant language leaves traces in the non-dominant language (e.g. French structures in German utterances of bilingual individuals whose dominant language is French), and whether, inversely, traces of the non-dominant language can also be found in the dominant language.

This question of possible bi-directional transfer will then be combined with a second inquiry into how degree of activation of the bilinguals’ languages (language mode) immediately influences lexicalization patterns in speech production. Are convergence effects influenced by a simultaneous activation of both languages? If yes, are these effects greater in the dominant or the non-dominant language? In this project, we explore these questions using a variety of instruments, including video stimuli with motion segments that bilingual individuals must describe in two modes and two languages (monolingual vs. bilingual mode, German vs. French). A series of items and tests are employed to gather the most important individual variables (identified on the basis of theoretical assumptions) of the participants, thus enabling us to statistically model the influence of individual variables on dependent linguistic variables.