French gender attention

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Revision as of 17:48, 4 October 2008 by Presson (Talk | contribs) (Independent variables)

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PIs Presson, MacWhinney
Faculty MacWhinney
Postdocs Pavlik
Others with > 160 hours n/a
Study Start Date 10/01/08
Study End Date 05/30/08
Learnlab N/A
Number of participants (total) 80-100
Number of participants (treatment) N/A
Total Participant Hours ~100
Datashop? Summer '09


This study extends the research question in a previous study by Presson & MacWhinney. In that experiment, explicit instruction led to better generalization and robustness to forgetting, compared to correct/incorrect feedback only. In the current study, explicitness is manipulated as well, with the more explicit condition the same as the previous study. However, the more implicit condition in this case is a highlighting manipulation, with no rules presented and in which participants see the relevant cue in capital letters to draw attention to the endings of words (e.g. "fromAGE" v. "fromage"). We want to know first if students are as effective at extracting cue patterns with this intervention as with strictly explicit instruction.

Second, we manipulate the time pressure of the task between groups. Time pressure favors procedural and automatic performance. If the highlighting condition is less explicit and equally effective, we expect an advantage within the time pressure condition. This is important because time pressure is an essential element of naturalistic language use.


Research question

This research is designed to discover the best method of producing robust learning of French nominal gender, as well as the factors that make this learning more difficult.

Background and significance

Tucker, Lambert and Rigault (1977) evaluated the L1 (first language) learning of cues to gender in French. More recently, Holmes and Dejean de la Batie (1999) produced the first study of the acquisition of grammatical gender by L2 learners. Holmes and Segui (2004) have extended the detail of these analyses, but so far only with native speakers. Carroll (1999) and Lyster (2006) have explored the role of cue validity and availability in predicting usage by learners. All of these studies underscore the importance of high validity cues for the general vocabulary. However, these cues are only marginally useful for the highest frequency forms, whose gender must be learned more or less by rote. These analyses are in very close accord with the claims of the Competition Model (MacWhinney 1978, 2006).

In the Competition Model, each cue has a strength that is based on its reliability in signaling information (as in, for example, the use of spelling to predict grammatical gender). Some cues are more reliable than others: for instance, in the case of nouns that refer to people, semantic cues (the gender of a person) are more reliable than spelling cues. Over time, a learner picks up on these reliabilities, first acquiring the most clearly reliable cues, then later pulling apart conflicting but frequently co-occurring ones. Cue conflicts are then resolved through a process of competition. A full discussion of cue conflict is found in MacDonald and MacWhinney (1991).

In the current study, we manipulate whether participants receive explicit cues to gender patterns, or merely correct / incorrect feedback with the relevant cues highlighted to direct attention.

Dependent variables

Accuracy and latency in training, as well as pre-/post-test gain scores, are dependent measures. In the post-test, there are two blocks: visual presentation (as in training) and auditory presentation (a transfer task).

Independent variables

Between-groups manipulations of time pressure and explicitness produce four groups:

Rule + Time Pressure

Rule - Time Pressure

Highlighting + Time Pressure

Highlighting - Time Pressure

Time pressure is operationalized by timimg out test trials after (some interval) ms.








Annotated bibliography

  • Anderson, J. R., & Fincham, J. M. (1994). Acquisition of procedural skills from examples. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 20(6), 1322-1340.
  • Carroll, S. (1999). Input and SLA: Adults' sensitivity to different sorts of cues to French gender. Language Learning, 49, 37-92.
  • DeKeyser, R. M. (2005). What Makes Learning Second-Language Grammar Difficult? A Review of Issues. Language Learning, 55(Suppl1), 1-25.
  • Holmes, V. M., & Dejean de la Batie, B. (1999). Assignment of grammatical gender by native speakers and foreign learners of French. Applied Psycholinguistics, 20, 479-506.
  • Holmes, V. M., & Segui, J. (2004). Sublexical and lexical influences on gender assignment in French. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 33, 425-457.
  • Lyster, R. (2006). Predictability in French gender attribution: A corpus analysis. French Language Studies, 16, 69-92.
  • MacDonald, J. L., & MacWhinney, B. (1991). Levels of learning: A microdevelopmental study of concept formation. Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 407-430.
  • MacWhinney, B. (2006). A unified model. In N. Ellis & P. Robinson (Eds.), Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Press.
  • Pimsleur, P. (1967). A memory schedule. The Modern Language Journal, 51(2), 73-75.
  • Robinson, P. (1997). Generalizability and automaticity of second language learning under implicit, incidental, enhanced, and instructed conditions. Studies in Second Language Aquisition, 19(2), 223-247.
  • Segalowitz, S., Segalowitz, N., & Wood, A. (1998). Assessing the development of automaticity in second language word recognition. Applied Psycholinguistics, 19, 53-67.
  • Ullman, M. T. (2001). The neural basis of lexicon and grammar in first and second language: the declarative/procedural model. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4(1), 105-122.