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Real-time grammar processing by native and non-native speakers: constructions unique to the second language

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Publication details

JournalBilingualism: Language and Cognition
DateE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jul 2013
DatePublished (current) - Apr 2014
Issue number2
Number of pages21
Pages (from-to)237-257
Early online date24/07/13
Original languageEnglish


We investigated second language (L2) comprehension of grammatical structures that are unique to the L2, and which are known to cause persistent difficulties in production. A visual-world eye-tracking experiment focused on online comprehension of English articles by speakers of the article-lacking Mandarin, and a control group of English native speakers. The results show that non-native speakers from article-lacking backgrounds can incrementally utilise the information signalled by L2 articles in real time to constrain referential domains and resolve reference more efficiently. The findings support the hypothesis that L2 processing does not always over-rely on pragmatic affordances, and that some morphosyntactic structures unique to the target language can be processed in a targetlike manner in comprehension – despite persistent difficulties with their production. A novel proposal, based on multiple meaning-to-form, but consistent form-to-meaning mappings, is developed to account for such comprehension–production asymmetries.

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