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Parsing the L2 input, an overview: Investigating L2 learners’ processing of syntactic ambiguities and dependencies in real-time comprehension


Roberts,  Leah
Language Acquisition Group, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Roberts, L. (2010). Parsing the L2 input, an overview: Investigating L2 learners’ processing of syntactic ambiguities and dependencies in real-time comprehension. In G. D. Véronique (Ed.), Language, Interaction and Acquisition [Special issue] (pp. 189-205). Amsterdam: Benjamins.

The acquisition of second language (L2) syntax has been central to the study of L2 acquisition, but recently there has been an interest in how learners apply their L2 syntactic knowledge to the input in real-time comprehension. Investigating L2 learners’ moment-by-moment syntactic analysis during listening or reading of sentence as it unfolds — their parsing of the input — is important, because language learning involves both the acquisition of knowledge and the ability to use it in real time. Using methods employed in monolingual processing research, investigations often focus on the processing of temporary syntactic ambiguities and structural dependencies. Investigating ambiguities involves examining parsing decisions at points in a sentence where there is a syntactic choice and this can offer insights into the nature of the parsing mechanism, and in particular, its processing preferences. Studying the establishment of syntactic dependencies at the critical point in the input allows for an investigation of how and when different kinds of information (e.g., syntactic, semantic, pragmatic) are put to use in real-time interpretation. Within an L2 context, further questions are of interest and familiar from traditional L2 acquisition research. Specifically, how native-like are the parsing procedures that L2 learners apply when processing the L2 input? What is the role of the learner’s first language (L1)? And, what are the effects of individual factors such as age, proficiency/dominance and working memory on L2 parsing? In the current paper I will provide an overview of the findings of some experimental research designed to investigate these questions.