Information structure in bilingual speakers

Cross-linguistic influences and language dominance
Multilingualism in individuals
Project management:
01.2017 to 12.2021

Laura Hodel

In progress

Swiss National Science Foundation, project funding, project no. 176338

Languages have different means of linking consecutive events in a narrative structure while also highlighting various information. This project explores narrative structures created by French-German and Italian-German bilingual speakers with the aim of identifying whether being bilingual affects how an individual constructs a narrative in each language.

Speakers of Italian, French and German have various ways of organising information about concepts, actions and time in narratives and tend to rely on different structures. The project aims to ascertain whether bilingual speakers adopt two different approaches based on which language they are using, or whether there are cross-linguistic influences on one or both languages, depending on the weight each language has in the speaker’s linguistic repertoire. Another goal is to determine whether these differences are detected by native speakers, i.e. if they experience narratives (e.g. in Swiss German) constructed using another style (e.g. Italian) as non-native.

The approach is derived from theories and methods developed in applied linguistics regarding information structure. Findings from these studies have shown that adult learners of a second language are influenced by their native language. This research will be pursued in Switzerland, with a particular focus on bilingualism.