Sensitivity to Agreement Morphology in Native and Nonnative English: Evidence from Self-Paced Reading Experiments

Conference: The European Conference on Language Learning (ECLL2022)
Title: Sensitivity to Agreement Morphology in Native and Nonnative English: Evidence from Self-Paced Reading Experiments
Stream: Psychology of the learner
Presentation Type: Oral Presentation
Sonthaya Rattanasak, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
Nattama Pongpairoj, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand


Second language (L2) sentence processing is often found to be dissimilar to that of native speakers, and nonnative processing difficulties have been attributed to various sources. This study examined individual differences in terms of working memory capacity and distance-based complexity in L2 agreement processing. In two word-by-word self-paced reading experiments, a total of 80 agreement-lacking Thai learners of L2 English and 80 native speakers of English read sentences involving English subject-verb agreement dependencies in two distance conditions. Distance was manipulated based on the dependency locality theory (Gibson, 1998, 2000), using semantically reversible English relative clauses (short-distance subject-extracted and long-distance object-extracted relative clauses). Reading times were observed in the region of the matrix verb and the following word for spillover effects. A complex reading span task was used as a measure of working memory capacity. LexTALE scores showed L2 English proficiency to be upper-intermediate. Linear mixed-effects modeling revealed that the native speakers' and L2 learners' ability to show and maintain their grammatical sensitivity to agreement violation was modulated as a function of working memory capacity and distance-based complexity. The findings also showed that while the L2 learners showed sensitivity to agreement violation in short-distance agreement dependencies, their processing difficulties were evident when the agreement processing involved multiple unique-to-L2 features in long-distance agreement dependencies. The nonnative sensitivity in the long-distance conditions was associated with the decrease in working memory capacity and linguistic complexity based on distance. The findings were accounted for by the crosslinguistic competition account (Austin, Pongpairoj & Trenkic, 2015; Trenkic & Pongpairoj, 2013).

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