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Adaptation to syntactic structures in native and nonnative sentence comprehension



Previous research suggests that native speakers quickly adapt to the properties of the language in the surrounding context. For instance, as they repeatedly read a structure that is initially nonpreferred or infrequent, they show a reduction of processing difficulty. Adaptation has been accounted for in terms of error-based learning: the error resulting from the difference between the expected and actual input leads to an adjustment of the knowledge representation, which changes future expectations. The present study tested whether experiencing an error is sufficient for adaptation. We compared native English speakers and second language (L2) learners’ processing of, and adaptation to, two types of temporarily ambiguous structures that were resolved toward the nonpreferred interpretation. Whereas both native English and L2 speakers showed increased reading times at the disambiguating word versus a nonambiguous control, our data suggest that only native English speakers adapted, and only to one of the two structures. These results suggest that experiencing an error is not sufficient for adaptation, and that factors such as ease of revision and task effects may play a role as well.


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ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Edith Kaan, Department of Linguistics, University of Florida, Box 115454, Gainesville, FL 32611. E-mail:


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