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DIDI - Discovering Discourse: The acquisition of discourse connectives in L1 and L2

English title DIDI - Discovering Discourse: The acquisition of discourse connectives in L1 and L2
Applicant Zufferey Sandrine
Number 184882
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Dep. für Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Romance languages and literature
Start/End 01.10.2019 - 30.09.2023
Approved amount 497'418.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Romance languages and literature
Applied linguistics

Keywords (5)

Pragmatics; Second language acquisition; First language acquisition; Language processing; Discourse connectives

Lay Summary (French)

Lead
Les connecteurs sont des mots comme 'parce que', 'mais' et 'bien que', qui servent à indiquer explicitement les liens de cohérence entre les phrases dans un texte. Les connecteurs jouent un rôle important pour la lisibilité des textes : ils accélèrent la lecture et améliorent la compréhension et la mémorisation. Maîtriser l’usage des connecteurs est donc essentiel pour communiquer efficacement ses idées.
Lay summary

Le projet DIDI vise à investiguer la manière dont les adolescents et les apprenants de langue étrangère apprennent progressivement à utiliser correctement les connecteurs du français. Certains travaux ont en effet montré que les enfants éprouvent encore des difficultés à utiliser correctement des connecteurs fréquents comme parce que et mais à la fin de l’école primaire. En revanche, la manière dont les adolescents développent progressivement une compétence similaire à celle des adultes au cours de l’école secondaire et du gymnase reste mal connue, tout comme les causes qui empêchent certains adolescents de développer une telle compétence. De même, certains travaux ont montré que les apprenants de langue étrangère peinent à utiliser correctement les connecteurs, mais les raisons de ces difficultés restent controversées.

Par une série d’expériences de lecture et de compréhension menées en parallèle en français langue maternelle et langue seconde avec des apprenants germanophones du français, DIDI cherchera à mieux cerner les facteurs qui conditionnent la capacité des adolescents et des apprenants à maîtriser les connecteurs. Le projet se focalisera plus précisément sur les connecteurs utilisés principalement à l'écrit comme toutefois et néanmoins, pour lesquels les compétences sont les plus variables, même pour les locuteurs adultes de langue maternelle. Un autre axe du projet consistera à étudier la compréhension des relations de cohérence implicites, c’est-à-dire communiquées en l’absence de connecteurs, ainsi que les relations de cohérence qui sont enchâssées les unes dans les autres dans un texte. Les résultats du projet auront des retombées importantes sur le développement de matériel pédagogique pour les élèves et les apprenants de langue seconde.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 26.05.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Project partner

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
148024 MULDIS - Discourse Connectives: From Multiple Languages to Multilingual Minds 01.04.2014 Ambizione

Abstract

The DIDI project will investigate the acquisition of discourse connectives by French-speaking teenagers and second language learners of French, through a series of controlled experiments performed in parallel over the two groups. These experiments will shed new light on the similarities and differences in the acquisition path of first and second language learners, and will provide new evidence about the acquisition of words encoding procedural meaning in the mental lexicon. By so doing, DIDI will generate knowledge with significant practical implications for first and second language pedagogy. Discourse connectives are lexical items that make explicit the coherence relations linking units of text or discourse, such as cause or concession (e.g. Halliday & Hasan, 1976; Mann & Thomson, 1988; Sanders et al., 1992; Knott & Dale, 1994). Connectives play a crucial role for successful verbal communication, as their adequate use helps adult readers with discourse processing and comprehension (Sanders et al., 2007; Canestrelli et al., 2013). Connectives are, however, particularly difficult to master for children acquiring their first language, as well as for second language learners. For example, several studies have shown that children do not master certain temporal relations conveyed by frequent connectives like after until the age of 12 (Pyykkönen & Järvikivi, 2012) and little is known about the subsequent acquisition of less frequent connectives in more complex discourse contexts during teenager years. Moreover, even though most languages possess connectives, their usage is quite variable cross-linguistically (e.g. Pit, 2007). As a result, connectives also represent an area of difficulty for second language learners (e.g. Crewe, 1990; Granger & Tyson, 1996) but the causes of these difficulties have not been clearly established yet. The DIDI project will contribute to uncover the cognitive processes underlying the first and second language acquisition of discourse connectives, using evidence from a series of experiments conducted in the course of two PhD theses.1. First language acquisition of discourse connectives: we will investigate the factors limiting teenagers’ ability to understand and process connectives during their secondary and high-school years, focusing on three underexplored areas of complexity. A first set of experiments will assess the roles of word familiarity, cognitive complexity and polyfunctionality as factors influencing teenagers’ ability to understand connectives used in the written mode. A second set of experiments will explore teenagers’ ability to process and understand various types of implicit coherence relations. A third set of experiments will assess teenagers’ processing and understanding of embedded coherence relations. 2. Second language acquisition of discourse connectives: we will assess the impact of cognitive load for language processing in a second language, the factors affecting the ability to understand connectives used in the written mode, and the ability to process implicit relations. Through these experiments, we will investigate the progressive integration of connectives in the L2 mental lexicon in the course of second language learning, by assessing the competence of learners at three stages of proficiency (B1 to C1). These results will serve to answer questions about when and how the mastery of discourse connectives develops in learners acquiring a foreign language and to compare the acquisition patterns with those of children acquiring their first language.
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