Effects of the interaction between grammatical gender in the L1 and the L2 and the role of L1 dialectal variation - Lecture by Rachel Klassen

Thursday 24 January 2019, 12h30 - 14h00, Room A-205, City Campus, Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerp

Rachel Klassen is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellow and leader of the GenBiLex Project at UiT The Arctic University of Norway. Her research focuses on adult language acquisition and bilingualism, with a particular emphasis on grammatical gender and the bilingual lexicon.

A significant body of psycholinguistic research in bilingual lexical access has shown that speakers of two languages with grammatical gender have a representation of gender that is shared between the L1 and the L2 (e.g. Salamoura & Williams 2007, Bordag & Pechmann 2007, Paolieri et al. 2010). Recent work has extended these findings to speakers of languages with asymmetric gender systems such as Spanish and German which have two gender values (masculine, feminine) and three gender values (masculine, feminine, and neuter), respectively. Similar to bilingual speakers of languages with symmetric gender systems, an L1-L2 shared representation has been posited for asymmetric gender systems (Lemhöfer, Spalek & Schriefers 2008), and the asymmetric gender value has been found to interfere significantly less in language production (Klassen 2016a).

Complementary findings from research on language acquisition have shown that this representation in the bilingual lexicon leads to pervasive effects of the L1 in L2 gender assignment and agreement. L1 speakers of languages with grammatical gender tend to transfer L1 gender information into the L2 (e.g. Sabourin et al. 2006) while L1 speakers of languages without grammatical gender (such as English) opt for a masculine-as-default strategy (e.g. Franceschina 2001). However, this does not seem to hold for speakers of languages with asymmetric gender systems who have demonstrated a stronger tendency towards a default strategy than L1 transfer (Klassen 2016b).

In this talk Rachel Klassen will broaden the dialogue on the effect of asymmetries in the lexicon by including novel findings on the effect of L1 gender variation from a new study on L1 Flemish speakers’ performance in L2 Spanish.


Bordag, D., & Pechmann, T. (2007). Factors influencing L2 gender processing. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10(3), 299–314.
Franceschina, F. (2001). Morphological or syntactic deficits in near-native speakers? An assessment of some current proposals. Second Language Research, 17(3), 213–247.
Klassen, R. (2016a). The representation of asymmetric grammatical gender systems in the bilingual mental lexicon. Probus, 28(1), 9–28.
Klassen, R. (2016b). When masculine as default supercedes L1 transfer: Bilingual speakers of languages with asymmetric gender systems. In Alba de la Fuente, A., Valenzuela, E. and Martínez-Sanz, C. (Eds.) Language Acquisition Beyond Parameters: Studies in honour of Juana M. Liceras (pp.73-98). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Lemhöfer, K., Spalek, K., & Schriefers, H. (2008). Cross-language effects of grammatical gender in bilingual word recognition and production. Journal of Memory and Language, 59(3), 312–330.
Paolieri, D., Cubelli, R., Macizo, P., Bajo, T., & Job, R. (2010). Grammatical gender processing in Italian and Spanish bilinguals. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63(8), 1631–1645.
Sabourin, L., Stowe, L. A., & de Haan, G. J. (2006). Transfer effects in learning a second language grammatical gender system. Second Language Research, 22(1), 1–29.
Salamoura, A., & Williams, J. N. (2007). The representation of grammatical gender in the bilingual lexicon: Evidence from Greek and German. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10(3), 257–275.