Processing to learn noncanonical word orders: Exploring linguistic and cognitive predictors of reanalysis in early L2 sentence comprehension

Holger Hopp*, Sarah Schimke, Freya Gastmann, David Öwerdieck, Gregory J. Poarch

*Corresponding author for this work

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To test the contributions of processing to L2 syntax learning, this study explores (cross-) linguistic and cognitive predictors of sentence reanalysis in the L2 comprehension of relative clauses among low-intermediate L1 German adolescent learners of L2 English. Specifically, we test the degree to which L2 comprehension is affected by L2 proficiency, reanalysis ability in a related, earlier-acquired L2 structure (questions), reanalysis ability of relative clauses in the L1, cognitive control, and cognitive capacity. In visual-world eye-tracking experiments, 141 adolescent German-speaking L2 learners of English selected target pictures for auditorily presented questions and relative clauses in the L1 and in the L2. The results showed a strong subject preference for L2 relative clauses. Learners' L2 proficiency and their processing of object questions in the L2 predicted reanalysis for object relatives in eye movements, reaction times, and comprehension accuracy. In contrast, there was no evidence that cognitive control or working memory systematically affected the processing of object relatives. These findings suggest that linguistic processing outweighs cognitive processing in accounting for individual differences in low-intermediate L2 acquisition of complex grammar. Specifically, learners recruit shared processing mechanisms and routines across grammatical structures to pave a way in the acquisition of syntax.

Original languageEnglish
JournalStudies in Second Language Acquisition
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28-Sept-2023

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