Where the eye takes you: the processing of gender in codeswitching

Tamara Gómez Carrero (University of Valladolid Language Acquisition Lab, Spain), Raquel Fernández Fuertes (University of Valladolid Language Acquisition Lab, Spain) and Alejandro Martínez (University of Valladolid Language Acquisition Lab, Spain)

Codeswitching (CS) has been used as a window to explore how the properties of the two language systems interact in the mind of the bilingual (e.g. Jorschick et al. 2010, Arnaus et al. 2012, Liceras et al. 2016, Fairchild & van Hell 2017, Valdés Kroff et al. 2017, Burkholder 2018).

In this study we focus on this language contact situation by analyzing experimental data elicited via the eye tracker methodology to a group of L1 Spanish L2 English bilinguals. More specifically, given that Spanish-English bilingual communities have been shown to exhibit an overwhelming tendency to produce determiner–noun CS (1) (e.g. Liceras et al. 2008, Valdés Kroff 2016, Valenzuela et al. 2012, Fernández Fuertes & Liceras 2018, Johns et al. 2018), we formally explore the directionality of the switch (2) and the type of implicit gender agreement mechanism in the case of Spanish determiner CS (3-4).

(1)       El hombre ha apagado   el fire     very quickly

(2)       a.         la window                       (Spanish Determiner – English Noun)

             b.        the ventana.                  (English Determiner – Spanish Noun)

(3)       a.         laFwindowF in SP          (gender congruent)

             b.         elMwindowF in SP         (gender non-congruent)

(4)       a.         elMbookM in SP              (gender congruent)

             b.         laFbookM in SP               (gender non-congruent))

Using an EyeLink Portable Duo, we measured eye-movement data of 10 L2 bilinguals while reading code-switched structures. The reading task consisted of 156 sentences (48 experimental items, 54 fillers and 54 distractors); comprehension questions followed half of the fillers (27) and half of the distractors (27) but never the experimental items. Frequencies of the target nouns were controlled using EsPal (Duchon et al. 2013) for Spanish and SUBTLEXus(Brysbaert & New 2009)for English. Four eye-tracking measures were extracted (gaze duration, right bounded duration, regression path duration, and total duration) and calculated for three regions (the determiner preceding the target noun, the target noun, and a spillover region consisting of the following 2-4 words).

CS took significantly longer to process in the Spanish determiner switches than in the English ones (3a vs b); and longer in the gender non-congruent switches than in the gender congruent ones (4-5a vs b). This is in line with previous studies using off-line acceptability judgment data (Liceras et al. 2008, 2016, Gómez Carrero et al. 2018).

Selected references

Fairchild, Sarah & Janet Van Hell. 2017. Determiner-noun code-switching in Spanish Heritage speakers. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition20, 150-161.

Johns, Michael A., Jorge R. Valdés Kroff & Paola E. Dussias. 2018. Mixing things up: How blocking and mixing affect the processing of codemixed sentences. International Journal of Bilingualism 23 (2), 584-611.

Liceras, Juana M., Raquel Fernández Fuertes, Susana Perales, Rocío Pérez-Tattam, & Kenton Todd Spradlin. 2008. Gender and gender agreement in bilingual native and non-native grammars: a view from children and adult functional-lexical mixings.Lingua, 118, 827-851.

Liceras, Juana M., Raquel Fernández Fuertes & Rachel Klassen. 2016. Language dominance and language nativeness: the view from English-Spanish code-switching. In R. E. Guzzardo Tamargo et al. (eds.) Spanish-English codeswitching in the Caribbean and the U.S., 107-138. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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