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Title:Processing of English relative clauses by adult L2 learners
Author(s):Baek, Soondo
Director of Research:Ionin, Tania
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Ionin, Tania
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Christianson, Kiel; Garnsey, Susan M.; Yoon, Hye Suk James
Department / Program:Linguistics
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):second language sentence processing
working memory capacity
individual differences in sentence processing
relative clause processing
Abstract:The ability to use a second language learned after childhood is an important aspect of the human mind. A better understanding of the characteristics of the L2 sentence processing mechanism deployed by adult L2 learners would provide valuable insights into this important human ability. The present dissertation is an attempt to draw a detailed picture of the L2 sentence processing mechanism by comparing L1 speakers and adult L2 learners in terms of the use of different sources of information and the role of working memory capacity (WMC) in the course of sentence processing. In three self-paced reading experiments with L1 speakers of English (Chapter 6) and three parallel experiments with adult L1-Korean L2-English learners (Chapter 7), the processing of subject- and object-extracted relative clauses (SRs and ORs) in English were tested with the animacy of nouns systematically manipulated. The effect of individual differences in WMC was also explored. The results from L1 speakers corroborated previous findings (i) that ORs are more difficult to comprehend than SRs, indicating greater syntactic complexity of the former, (ii) that ORs with inanimate head nouns (i.e., objects) and animate subjects are easier to comprehend then those with animate head nouns and inanimate subjects, reflecting the role of canonical noun animacy-grammatical role associations (i.e., animate nouns are typically subjects and inanimate nouns are typically objects), and (iii) that individual differences in WMC correlate with individual differences in the ability to incorporate noun animacy information into syntactic analyses but not with individual differences in syntactic complexity effects, suggesting a dissociation between processing resources recruited for structural computation and those recruited for semantic evaluation (e.g., Traxler, Williams, Blozis, & Morris, 2005). The behaviors of L2 learners were similar to those of L1 speakers in several respects. They found ORs more difficult than SRs, and ORs with animate subjects and inanimate head nouns easier than those with inanimate subjects and animate head nouns. The results suggest that adult L2 learners are able to take into account both syntactic and semantic information in native-like ways during online sentence processing. In addition, L2 learners showed a potential dissociation between processing resources underlying syntactic computation and semantic evaluation, further suggesting a similarity between L1 and L2 sentence processing mechanisms. Unlike L1 speakers, however, they did not benefit from animate subjects in processing ORs when head nouns were also animate, suggesting a reduced ability to revise an initially constructed, plausible interpretation (under the assumption that an animate head noun leads to the expectation of an SR, which must be discarded when the expectation turns out to be wrong). The results taken together suggest that L1 speakers and adult L2 learners of a language employ similar kinds of processes and processing resources to comprehend sentences in the language, but L2 learners experience greater difficulty revising the currently built structure to which they have made a commitment due to its plausible interpretation. Implications of these findings are discussed for the theoretical understanding of L2 sentence processing by adult L2 learners.
Issue Date:2012-06-27
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Soondo Baek
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-06-28
Date Deposited:2012-05

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