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TRANSFER EFFECTS IN BILINGUAL SENTENCE PROCESSING

Abstract

This study investigates transfer effects in second language (L2) sentence processing. Although the evidence for such effects is mixed, recent studies have found that during online sentence comprehension, L2 readers are insensitive to certain types of morphological marking that are required in the L2 but not in the first language (L1) (e.g., Jiang 2004b, 2007). The present study tested two other conditions in which L2 readers may show similar interference from their L1: (1) a condition in which the L1 and L2 indicate a grammatical relationship with comparable morphology, but under different rules (i.e., a “similar but different” condition), and (2) a condition in which morphological marking is required in the L1 but not in the L2 (i.e., an “L1+L2-” condition). In a selfpaced reading task, Spanish learners of English (along with comparison groups of English native speakers and Chinese learners of English) were tested on two sentence types designed to assess the influence of these potential sources of interference. One sentence type involved possessive pronouns in order to examine a “similar but different” condition; while the other involved personal and non-personal direct objects in order to examine an “L1+L2-” condition. Overall, Spanish-English bilinguals did not show processing difficulty (i.e. slowdowns in reading times) consistent with interference effects in either of these conditions. However, late Spanish learners of English showed a trend indicating interference effects in the “L1+L2-” condition, or, more specifically, when reading English sentences involving personal direct objects. We interpret these findings to suggest limits, or boundary conditions, on theories of L1-to-L2 transfer in the processing of grammatical morphology during online L2 sentence comprehension.

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Barto-Sisamout, K. & Nicol, J. & Witzel, J. & Witzel, N., (2009) “TRANSFER EFFECTS IN BILINGUAL SENTENCE PROCESSING”, Journal of Second Language Acquisition and Teaching 16, p.1-26.

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Karen Barto-Sisamout (University of Arizona)
Janet Nicol (University of Arizona)
Jeffrey Witzel (University of Arizona)
Naoko Witzel (University of Arizona)

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

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This article has been peer reviewed.

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