Grammatical gender sensitivity and biological gender errors in processing German personal and possessive pronouns
Acquiring the grammatical gender system in German is a challenge for many language learners, especially those whose native language is not gendered. For the acquisition of personal pronouns as grammatical gender indicators, studies on learners with different ages as well as different L1 and L2 contact durations revealed that the sex of personal pronouns is considered the primary basis for pronoun choice (see Bast 2003, Wegener 1995, Ahrenholz 2005, Spinner/Juffs 2008).
However, studies on the English acquisition of Chinese language learners have shown that they have difficulties with sex-based pronominalization and commit biological gender errors in using personal pronouns by choosing a pronoun that is not congruent with its referent in the grammatical gender during speech production (Chen 2004, Dong/Jia 2011, Gu 2018). According to Chen and Su (2011) and Dong et al. (2015), speakers with Chinese as their first language, influenced by their native language, have lower sensitivity to the grammatical gender information encoded in the pronoun, which could lead to the biological gender error in speech production.
Compared to English, where the gender-marked units only occur with pronouns, the grammatical gender of the noun in German is marked on all adnominal and most pronominal reference units (Hoberg 2004: 17, 75). The planned work is therefore devoted to the question of whether Chinese-speaking learners also use the personal or possessive pronouns in language processing in German without considering the gender congruence with the referent. If a similar phenomenon is observed in the German acquisition of Chinese-speaking learners, the cause of the gender errors in language production can be further explored based on the hypothesis of Chen and Su (2011) and Dong et al. (2015): How sensitive are Chinese-speaking learners to the grammatical gender information encoded in German personal and possessive pronouns? To what extent does grammatical gender sensitivity influence language production in the processing of German personal and possessive pronouns? The dissertation aims to shed light on the connection between grammatical gender sensitivity and biological gender errors in the processing of German personal and possessive pronouns through psycholinguistic methods and to gain psycholinguistic insights into the process of sex-based pronominalization.