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Title:Sentence processing in Spanish as a second language: A study of context, background knowledge and word order
Author(s):Houston, Anthony Dean
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):VanPatten, Bill
Department / Program:Spanish, Italian and Portuguese
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Education, Language and Literature
Education, Bilingual and Multicultural
Language, Linguistics
Education, Educational Psychology
Education, Higher
Abstract:Sentence processing research has demonstrated a strong tendency for second language learners to assign the role of subject or agent to the first noun of an utterance even though grammatical morphemes and function words indicate that the second noun is the subject (Bates and MacWhinney, 1984: Gass, 1989: Glisan, 1985: Heilenman & McDonald, 1992). English speakers learning Spanish mistake preverbal object pronouns for subjects (Lee, 1987; VanPatten, 1984). Although a first-noun strategy is highly reliable in English, it is less reliable in languages such as Spanish where Object-Verb-Subject (OVS) constructions occur more frequently. Sentence processing research has found that lexical semantics, a type of word-level prior knowledge, can override the tendency of second language learners to assign. The present study investigates whether context and background knowledge, like lexical semantics, can override this first-noun strategy when cues are in conflict. For example, when the first noun of an utterance is inanimate and the second noun is animate, Italian speakers tend to prefer a lexical semantic (animacy) strategy over a word-order (first noun) strategy (Bates and MacWhinney, 1984). These speakers tend to identify the animate second noun as the subject or agent.
In the present study, fourth-semester university students of Spanish were asked to listen to simple declarative sentences and complete a sentence interpretation task. Target sentences were object-verb-subject (OVS) constructions in which word order was in conflict either with context or with background knowledge. The results of the present study support that background knowledge can override the tendency of second language learners to assign subject status to the first noun of an utterance. Context, as operationalized in the present study, did not appear to have an effect.
The present study provides direction for future research on the role of prior knowledge in the acquisition of second language surface features. Acquisition of forms depends not merely on comprehension, but also on form/meaning connections (Terrell, 1986). If prior knowledge serves to make input comprehensible, it should also serve to make input available for acquisition.
Issue Date:1996
Rights Information:Copyright 1996 Houston, Anthony Dean
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9702539
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9702539

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