The question of whether adult learners can acquire native-like knowledge and ability with a second language has long been of fundamental importance in the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Much previous investigation of this issue has employed traditional pen-and-paper measures, following the formal linguistics tradition, and has yielded conflicting findings. Few studies have used modern psycholinguistic techniques to explore how near-native knowledge of grammar can be applied in online sentence processing. The rapidly growing new area of second language sentence (L2) processing, on the other hand, has mostly followed existing first language research and is just now beginning to answer questions unique to SLA.

With support from the National Science Foundation and under the direction of Dr. Bill VanPatten, Ms. Jill Jegerski will conduct a dissertation study that addresses the following research question: Can adult second language learners acquire native-like syntactic processing behavior? The proposed project will draw on previous research from both SLA and psycholinguistics, examining the upper limits of language learning from a sentence processing perspective. Specifically, the performance of near-native speakers of Spanish, screened for native-like proficiency and long-term immersion in Mexico and independently tested for offline grammatical competence, will be compared to that of native speakers in four self-paced reading experiments. Each will test a different prediction of the shallow structure hypothesis. The different types of sentence processing will be measured in a single, within-subjects design and reading times will be reported and analyzed statistically for individual near-native participants as well as for the group--these are methodological innovations as neither has been employed in previous study of sentence processing. Thus, the design and outcome of this investigation will both advance current knowledge and facilitate future empirical research on language acquisition, language processing, and the human language capacity in general.

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Texas Tech University
United States
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