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Syntactic Ambiguity Resolution While Reading in Second and Native Languages

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Bilinguals' reading strategies were examined in their native and second language via the recording of eye movements. Experiment 1 examined the processing of sentences that contained local syntactic ambiguities. Results showed that bilinguals reading in their second language tended to resolve these ambiguities in a different way from native readers. Bilinguals tended to prefer to attach incoming information to the most recently processed constituent. However, this global strategy was influenced by lexical information provided by the verb. Moreover, the combined analysis of both groups of readers revealed an influence of verb subcategorization information on syntactic ambiguity resolution. Experiment 2 also examined syntactic ambiguity resolution in the native and second language, for sentences that were ambiguous in only one of the bilinguals' two languages. Results showed that bilinguals hesitated when reading in their second language at points in the sentence where their native language presented conflicting lexical information. Following this localized effect of ''transfer'', however, bilinguals performed in a manner similar to native speakers of the language. In combination, these experiments demonstrate that bilinguals perform a complete syntactic parsing of sentences when reading in the second language, and they do so in a manner similar to native speakers. Although lexical information can apparently influence parsing in the second language, our results do not provide strong evidence that it acts to override syntactic analysis based on structural principles.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 1997


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