PhD defences

Attend a doctoral defence at the Faculty of Arts

Structural Representations in Late Learners of Second Language: Effects of L2 Proficiency and Intervention Methods - Edwige Sijyeniyo (6/10/2023)

Edwige Sijyeniyo


During second language (L2) learning, L2 learners may rely on their first language (L1) syntax to produce similar syntactic structures in the L2. However, the second language may have dissimilar L2 syntactic structures that are absent in the learner’s L1. Therefore, the L2 learner must establish new syntactic representations for these dissimilar L2 structures (Hartsuiker & Bernolet, 2017).

I used structural priming to test the predictions of Hartsuiker and Bernolet’s developmental account of L2 syntactic acquisition, in which they propose that late L2 learners initially form item-specific L2 representations of new structures in the L2 that gradually evolve into abstract syntactic representations. These L2 syntactic representations eventually become shared with L1 syntactic representations, whenever the L1-L2 syntactic structures are syntactically similar. They also propose that the process of abstraction is influenced by L2 proficiency and the frequency of L2 syntactic structures. Lastly, the authors suggest that beginning L2 learners rely on lexical overlap between prime and target sentences for learning to occur.

But how do late learners deal with learning dissimilar L2 syntactic structures that are absent in their L1? Moreover, what role does L2 proficiency play in the formation of abstract structural representations for dissimilar L2 structures? Dissimilar L2 syntactic structures may not be spontaneously produced if a similar L2-L1 syntactic structure is already available to the L2 learner. In such a case, can interventions like verb overlap between prime and target sentences, and increased structural repetition of dissimilar L2 syntactic structures promote the production of these dissimilar L2 syntactic structures?

My findings indicate that (i) late L2 learners do indeed start with item-specific representations for new sentence structures in the L2, with earlier abstraction for simpler structures than for complex ones, (ii) L2 proficiency affects the abstraction process of L2 syntactic structures, particularly for infrequent, dissimilar, or less preferred L2 syntactic structures, (iii) employing verb overlap can influence the correct formulation of dissimilar L2 syntactic structures, promoting the production of these structures. Additionally, increasing exposure to less preferred L2 syntactic structures in the language input is an effective method to teach these structures to late L2 learners. (iv) Finally, explicit L2 instruction plays an important role in predicting structural preferences and structural priming effects. Therefore, I suggest a strong(er) collaboration between psycholinguists and second language teachers to enhance our understanding of L2 syntactic acquisition.

‘Behind the computer screens’: The use of keystroke logging for genetic criticism applied to born-digital works of literature - Lamyk Bekius (6/10/2023)

Lamyk Bekius


The digital environment in which present-day literature is composed changes the materiality of the sources available for genetic criticism significantly, since common word processors tend to hide the writing operations: additions are visualised on our screen as inline text production, and deleted text ‘disappears’ from the screen. This makes it a difficult endeavour to reconstruct the writing process, but does it herald the feared end of genetic criticism?

Behind the computer screens argues that this will not be the case as long as genetic criticism adapts to working with digital files. As one of the ways in which genetic criticism can adapt to the Digital Age the study examines the use of one method in particular: keystroke logging. To explore the possibilities of keystroke logging, the study analyses the writing processes of Gie Bogaert, Jente Posthuma, Roos van Rijswijk, David Troch, and Ellen Van Pelt. Each of them recorded their writing process using the keystroke logging software Inputlog.

By examining this keystroke logging data, we can study the writing process at an unprecedented level of granularity, including non-linear behaviour and the sequentiality of text production and revision. The fine-grained data of keystroke logging therefore allows for a new type of what this study calls ‘nanogenetic’ research.

Nanogenesis allows, among other things, the study of the author’s working methods and typing habits of the author, the triggers of text production and revision, aspects of discovery in writing, and how sources are transformed during the writing process. The study also explores how genetic narratology may be enriched by keystroke logging data, as this allows the temporal dimension to be included in the analysis. It examines how and when details of aspects of the narrative text are incorporated into the text and how they change during the writing process. When authors are willing to record their writing processes with a keystroke logging tool, the future of genetic criticism seems full of possibilities.

Subtitles for Access to Education: The impact of subtitles, subtitle language and linguistic proficiency on cognitive load, comprehension, reading and processing in different styles of asynchronous, online university lectures - Senne Van Hoecke (10/10/2023)

Senne Van Hoecke


Online lectures play a key role in today’s education. They can usually be viewed and reviewed at the leisure of the learner and they are able to reach wider audiences across the globe. To cater to these wider, more multicultural and multilingual audiences, an increasing number of higher education institutions are starting to use English as a medium of instruction (EMI). However, EMI might negatively influence learning performance for students with limited proficiency. Subtitles may help to overcome this language barrier, but how these fare in different online lectures is still underexplored. Moreover, few guidelines exist on how to design online lectures, meaning it is not an easy endeavor for a lecturer to produce an effective subtitled online lecture. While there are some cognitive theories that may provide guidance, more research is required to compare different styles of lectures and examine the effect and interactions subtitles have in these lectures.

This project examines the impact of the presence and language of subtitles on comprehension, subjective cognitive load, reading and cognitive processing in different styles of online lectures. This goal relates to three knowledge gaps: (1) the effect of subtitles on comprehension and cognitive load in education; (2) how subtitles are read and processed in different contexts; and (3) how different lecture styles combined with subtitles impact viewing and processing. In addition to addressing these knowledge gaps, this project presents a new stepwise approach to prepare experimental AVT research.

Specifically, this project consists of a number of experiments to set out a methodological approach and two main eye tracking studies to address the knowledge gaps above. The first main experiment was conducted with L2 English speaking students in Belgium and explored the effect of the presence and language of subtitles (intralingual/English vs interlingual/Dutch) in two distinct lecture styles (talking head vs voice-over PowerPoint). It focused mainly on comprehension, subjective cognitive load and visual attention distribution of students watching these recorded lectures. Additionally, students were interviewed to examine their perceptions of subtitles in different online lectures. The second experiment was conducted with L1 English speaking students in Australia and explored the effect of three different lecture styles (talking head, voice-over PowerPoint and composite/picture-in-picture) with English subtitles on comprehension and subjective cognitive load, but also on viewing, reading and cognitive processing. With these two experiments, the project attempts to comprehensively answer questions about the impact of subtitles and lecture styles in online education.

Reading Near and Far: Social and Material Intertextuality in James Joyce’s Library - Emily Bell (13/10/2023)

Emily Bell


What stories does a library tell? Well-thumbed pages, gifted books never opened or lost volumes traced through surviving reading notes contain many different histories. This thesis recounts the physical and intellectual movements of James Joyce’s reading encounters to reconstruct his library and its context. While intertextual research has focused on the theoretical and aesthetic relations between texts, there are practical histories behind the movement and acquisition of book objects that facilitate these connections. Through a combination of methods from genetic criticism, book history and historical contexts, this thesis provides new insights into the relationship between James Joyce’s library, his works and the context of their creation. Viewing the library in this way illuminates the history that we often forget to tell about Joyce’s intertextual practice: the history of his bibliographic environment.

Joyce, an Irish author of the modernist period, exhibits a well-established creative practice of note-taking for his novels, Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939) in particular. Many of his reading notes are preserved in dozens of notebooks which genetic critics have studied extensively to understand how quotations were repurposed in his manuscript drafts. This has led to considerable scholarly interest in the books, magazines and newspapers that Joyce used to create his densely intertextual works, recovering more than a thousand reading sources to date for these two novels. Joyce’s library, however, contains more than just the books that he read or quoted; many more volumes are evidenced physically, preserved in various academic institutions as part of his archive. This doctoral project is the first instance to collate all of these records of Joyce’s reading and book ownership under the umbrella of Joyce’s ‘lifetime library’. The discussion of this thesis thus reappraises the possibilities of reconstructing and analysing a writer’s library and, in so doing, sheds new light on Joyce’s intertextuality as a social and material phenomenon embedded in history.

Read more about Emily Bell's research on the faculty blog Bladspiegel.

Reading the Reader from a Distance: Digital Analyses of the Construction of Age in Fiction for Different Ages - Lindsey Geybels (20/10/2023)

Lindsey Geybels


Although children are often surrounded by only a relatively limited network of people of different ages around them, they have been shown to adopt varying age norms at a young age. These ideas may evolve throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, but often are carried with them throughout their lives. The books they read while growing up play a significant part in this process. This thesis looks at how age is constructed in fiction intended for children, young adults, and adults to gain a greater understanding of the implicit and explicit ideologies they carry on several levels; in addition to considering the sociological component of the age of the intended reader, the age of fictional characters is examined from a discursive standpoint. The examination of age ideologies in children’s literature has traditionally involved studying these materials as cultural artifacts, thereby introducing an inherent subjectivity that accompanies the researcher’s interpretation as well as a limitation on the scope of the material that can be analysed. To overcome these hurdles and delve into the multifaceted construction of age in fiction from a fresh perspective, ‘Reading the Reader from a Distance’ takes us on a journey that transforms literature into analysable data through the application of computational tools to 738 texts.

The British, Flemish, and Dutch authors whose oeuvres were selected to make up the corpus for this thesis each have their own take on writing for readers of different ages; some keep the age of their intended audience first and foremost in their mind while writing but others claim that their texts are ageless and appropriate for anyone who wants to read them. Interestingly, an examination of surface features and fictional characterisation reveals distinctions between texts intended for readers of different ages regardless of the author’s claims. In the end, our journey through these texts not only revealed intriguing patterns and differences but also showed the magic of using digital text analysis to explore the secrets of literature, shining a light on the hidden connections between stories and the people who read them, no matter their age.

In search of the religious modes of existence: Reflections on religious-philosophical education based on the work of Bruno Latour and Charles Taylor - Kurt Monten (23/10/2023)

Kurt Monten


In recent decades, people have been searching for the place and the role of worldviews in the educational curriculum and for a way they can still be taught at school. Many agree that a catechetical approach is no longer possible in today's diverse and secularised society. That is why some argue for a religious science approach or an approach in which one focuses on the development of the pupil's religious-philosophical identity starting from one or more worldviews. The question is whether these approaches do justice to the specificity of religious-philosophical education. This study explores ways in which religious-philosophical education does justice to the particularity of religion on the one hand and ensures that religious-philosophical education does not lose its school-based dimension on the other.

Drawing on the views of Hannah Arendt, Jacques Claes, Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, among others, the foundations of the school were described in order to delineate the specificity of the place where young people are taught. The school has been described as a place that is free of all kinds of individual, political, economic or religious-philosophical interests; as a place where the world is studied together, in such a way that pupils at their turn can renew it in their own ways.

In that perspective, Charles Taylor’s and Bruno Latour's views on religion were examined against the broader background of their analyses of modernity and their anthropological and ontological-metaphysical views. It was noted that, for them, religion does not primarily concern a particular belief or religious-philosophical view of reality, but has a strong incarnational character and has rather to do with a transformation of our existence and of our relationship with other human and non-human actors with whom we share the world. Furthermore, their thinking was applied to religious-philosophical education. Therefore three ways have been outlined that young people can take to shape themselves on a religious-philosophical level: the hermeneutic-philosophical way in which metaphysical-philosophical questions are reflexively explored; the poetic-constitutive way in which particular attention is paid to the uniqueness of religious language; the sensory-sensitising way, i.e. rather physical, sensory activities aimed at increasing our sensitivity to and care for the world.

In a final section, a number of topics that were discussed earlier, have been elaborated. A more concrete description has been given of what the school as an 'open training ground’ for religious-philosophical reflection and praxis might entail.