Thank you so much to everybody who participated and further advertised it! :D
As for the results... ummm... really, it's very technical, even for linguists (I tried to explain the study to my interviewer in May and she looked at me as if I was an alien) but here it goes:
The basic study is from 1990 and very well-known in the domain of first language acquisition in children. The kids were read stories similar to the (slightly funkied up) ones you guys read, the most well-known one is the one with the boy who told his dad at night that he fell from a tree in the afternoon.
Now, if you ask children "When did the boy say he hurt himself?", this question is ambiguous, there are two possible times that could be asked for: "The boy said at night that he hurt himself." oder "The boy said that he hurt himself in the afternoon."
It was shown that kids have a preference for the time of the saying (i.e. at night) whereas adults have no preference. They explained this finding by pointing to the young brain which is not developed enough to take the time information from the end of the sentence to the beginning of the sentence. (Sorry to everybody who has more thorough knowledge than I do but this is how I understood it. ;)) Both versions are technically correct though.
In German this so called "long distance movement" doesn't work, nor does it in French. There will be two different sentences, depending on what temporal information you're looking for:
Quand est-ce qu’il a dit qu'il s'était fait mal? vs. Qu’est-ce qu’il a dit quand il s’était fait mal?
Wann sagte der Junge, dass er sich verletzte? vs. Was sagte der Junge, wann er sich verletzte?
So, I wanted to see if German and French natives transfer this knowledge from their own mother tongue to English and thus act like monolingual children (so to speak). After all, this "short distance movement" that kids employ is not wrong but one possible interpretaton.
Also, I wanted to see what bilinguals do (who were easy enough to acquire for French and English but hard to get by for English and German).
Further, I looked at natives of other languages, like Dutch and Greek (hint, hint).
So, you got to read 7 stories:
- 3 were ambiguous (Noam falls from a tree, Cookie Monster wants to help, Kermit wants to kiss Miss Piggy)
- 3 were unambiguous (Sheldon goes to a party, Robin is panicking, David gets injured)
- 1 was grammatically incorrect (Simpsons) -- if you didn't catch that, don't worry... many people, even English natives, didn't and I got all kinds of answers.
As for the results... compared to English natives, German natives used wayyyy more short-distance movement, whereas the Francophones (be they bilinguals or "just" learners of English as a second language) behaved like monolingual English speakers.
Interesting and unexpected finding (I thought that the Francophones would behave like the Germans) but probably due to methodological shortcomings.
So, in a nutshell: A whole lot of very complicated stuff that has close to no relevance to real life but it made me pass the course and, in the end, get a job for next year. ;)
If you care to read the whole paper, here it is: Download pdf-Paper
I'll just repeat here what I said in my acknowledgment part:
I would like to thank all my friends and acquaintances for their participation. A further thank is directed to the administration of the German message board Hochzeits-Forum as well as the Livejournal communities for letting me advertise the study there.