Lexical and Morphosyntactic Processing Among Second Language Speakers

Project: Research project

Project Details


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The goal of the present proposal is to build on previous work conducted in the PI's lab and to lay the foundation for a broader research program that aims to understand the strategies used by adult second language (L2) speakers when processing sentences in their second language. As such, the studies proposed here will contribute to central questions regarding L2 speakers'linguistic knowledge of their non-native language and their ability to utilize this knowledge during real time language comprehension. Using the self- paced reading paradigm, the planned studies exploit core morphological and syntactic differences between German, Dutch, and English to explore the following questions. First, can L2 speakers utilize morphosyntactic information that is unique to the L2 during on-line sentence processing, and will L2 speakers process L2 morphosyntactic information even when the task does not explicitly draw their attention to the grammatical structure in question? An affirmative answer to this question would suggest that L2 speakers not only possess knowledge of particular L2 morphosyntactic structures, but that they can rapidly access and apply this knowledge when processing L2 input. The second question asks if L2 processing is driven more by lexical-semantic and pragmatic information, as has been suggested in several recent studies (see Clahsen &Felser, 2006, for a review), and whether a reliance on lexical-semantic information can be influenced by the positive transfer of first language (L1) parsing strategies. This question has theoretical implications regarding the extent to which even highly proficient adult L2 speakers may exhibit residual L1 effects in their L2 linguistic system, and how the application of their L2 linguistic knowledge during on-line processing may be similar to or fundamentally different from monolingual models of the human sentence processing mechanism. Such questions enrich our understanding of the human sentence processing mechanism by providing new evidence that there may, in fact, be multiple ways for people-be they bilingual or monolingual-to successfully parse and comprehend linguistic input in real time (cf. Christianson et al., 2001). It also speaks to core issues regarding the nature of potential constraints faced by adults when acquiring and using a second language in communicative contexts. Especially in a world in which both social and economic factors are driving more people to learn another language at an age beyond early childhood, the questions addressed in this proposal are crucial as researchers investigate the potential difficulties and advantages of becoming multilingual and identify factors that may facilitate success in late L2 reading. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE: At a time when social and economic factors have lead to a rise in the number of people learning and speaking multiple languages, it is crucial for researchers to investigate the potential difficulties and advantages of becoming fluent in a second language beyond childhood. The present project addresses this need by exploring both cognitive and affective issues that adult L2 speakers face when they have to process grammatical and lexical information in their non-native language.
Effective start/end date6/1/095/31/10


  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: $66,349.00
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: $67,463.00


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