Language Learning and the Gendered Self: Learner Identities and French Language Study in a US Context Open Access

Knisely, Kris Aric (2015)

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Through actions and words, individuals stake claim to identities and subjectivities; consciously or sub-consciously, they tell others who they are. To the same degree, individuals tell themselves who they are and attempt to embody their identities and subjectivities. However, as much as an individual has agency, the possible identities are constrained by the societies in which they live. In second language acquisition and applied linguistics, there exists a need to deepen our understandings of the intersections between identity, language learning, and motivation. At present, there appears to be general disinterest in learning modern foreign languages in the US, particularly among male-identified individuals. In a time of ever-increasing globalization, there is a need for the development of diverse linguistic skills if the US is to act globally without engaging in linguicism. It is thus imperative that we inquire about how individuals understand themselves and one another in the US that may be contributing to such disinterest. This study considers French in the US and was conducted at a private, urban research university in the southeastern US. The sample was purposive and of convenience. 47 undergraduates (33 male, 14 female) participated in focus groups (7) and interviews (4). Data analysis included three levels of coding and discourse analysis. Key findings include that gender was indexed by all participants in the discourses regarding language varieties. Furthermore, young adults hold and are able to readily articulate their gendered language attitudes. The French language was consistently gendered as feminine. Several narratives emerged that addressed the ways in which participants negotiate the relationships between their own identities and their own and others' perceptions of a language. Implications for research include a call for reconsidering the role of instrumental and integrative motivation in language study as well as for research into the effectiveness of suggested pedagogical strategies including: presenting a variety of target language speaker models, goal setting, self-evaluation, asking students to articulate a future second language self, employing community-building strategies to cultivate a sense of belonging, advocating for the utility of the target language, and integrating culture throughout the program of language study.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction. 1

Chapter Two: Theoretical Framework and Literature Review 8

Definitions of Key Terms 8

Theoretical Framework 16

Identity Development and Construction 16

The Social Nature of Identity Construction 26

Gender, Sex, and Sexuality. 37

Literature Review.. 57

Using Performativity Theory to Understand the Gendered Self as a Product of Linguistic and Social Performances. 59

Language and Gender. 63

Gender and Second Language Learning and Teaching. 64

Lack of Male Participation in the Language Classroom in Anglophone Countries. 66

The Case of French: Disproportionally Lower Male Enrollment and Achievement 67

Constructs for Understanding Motivation in the Field of Second Language Acquisition. 71

Gendered Language Attitudes and Language Ideologies. 73

Statement of the Problem.. 78

Purpose of the Study. 81

Research Questions. 82

Chapter Three: Method. 83

Context 83

Sampling. 83

Recruitment 83

Focus group participant selection. 83

Interview participant selection. 84

Addressing the relationship between gendered language attitudes and gender performance. 85

Sample description. 86

Confidentiality. 86

Instruments and Protocols. 87

Focus groups. 87

Interviews. 95

Data Collection and Management Procedures. 98

Researcher Position. 100

Analysis. 103

Chapter Four: Results. 112

Research Question 1: Indexing of Gender by Participants. 112

Research Question 2: Influence of Individual Experiences or Group Members on Gendering of French. 118

Research Question 3: Negotiation of Identities and Perceptions of Language Varieties. 123

The relevance of identity. 123

An alignment between one's identity and perceptions of the target language. 129

A strong sense of individuality, the free spirit, and rebel narratives. 133

Instrumental excuse. 137

Lack of choice narrative. 142

Cultivation of the self. 145

Global identity. 149

Evoking heterosexuality. 151

"The language learner" as an identity. 155

A chance to be someone else. 156

Feeling more X: Not necessarily being another self, but bringing into focus a different texture of one's identity. 158

The role of proficiency. 161

Remaining an ‘other': Limiting cultural acquisition. 170

Maturity and language exposure. 172

Embarrassment and hiding an L2 self. 178

Research Question 4: Relationships between identities, GLAs, Belongingness and. 180

Motivation to learn French. 180

Gendered language attitudes: Phonetics and phonology. 180

Gendered language attitudes: Personal experience and cultural associations. 187

Gendered language attitudes: Grammatical gender. 201

Gendered language attitudes: Body language. 202

Understanding the sources of gendered language attitudes. 209

Other emotions. 218

Sense of belongingness. 219

The role of language requirements. 240

The "good" language learner. 243

Desire to speak with others in the target language. 243

Conclusion. 244

Chapter Five: Discussion, Implications, and Directions for Future Research. 247

Research Question 1: To what extent is gender indexed by individuals in the discourses regarding language varieties?. 247

Research Question 2: How does an individual's gender, an individual's linguistic experiences, or the participants in the linguistic exchange relate to whether discourses regarding the French language reference: 1) femininity, 2) masculinity, 3) both femininity and masculinity, or 4) neither femininity nor masculinity?. 250

Research Question 3: In what ways do individuals negotiate the relationships between their own identities and their own and others' perceptions of a language variety (French)?. 254

The relevance of identity. 254

Strategies of identity presentation. 257

An alignment between one's identity and perceptions of the target language. 258

Misalignment: Narratives of identity management. 259

Maturity. 268

Embarrassment. 269

Research Question 4: What relationships exist among an individual's identities, gendered language attitudes, sense of belongingness, and motivation to learn a language (French)?. 270

Gendered language attitudes. 270

Sense of belongingness. 273

Language requirements. 277

Desire to speak with others in the target language. 277

Implications for Research, Theory, and Practice. 278

Directions for Future Research. 282

Works Cited. 284

Tables, Figures, and Appendices. 307

Table 1. Knisely (2013) Quantitative Measures Summary Table. 307

Table 2. Demographic Data for (2013) Quantitative Study Sample. 309

Table 3. Research Design Summary. 310

Table 4. Focus Group and Interview Design Summary 311

Appendix A: Contact Summary Form 312

Appendix B: Student Questionnaire 313

Appendix C: List of Research-Question and Literature-Driven Start Codes 334

Appendix D: Focus Group Protocol 335

Appendix F: Interview Protocol 338

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