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Bilingual deaf readers’ use of semantic and syntactic cues in the processing of English relative clauses*



Eye fixation measures were used to examine English relative clause processing by adult ASL–English bilingual deaf readers. Participants processed subject relative clauses faster than object relative clauses, but expected animacy cues eliminated processing difficulty in object relative clauses. This brings into question previous claims that deaf readers’ sentence processing strategies are qualitatively different from those of hearing English native speakers. Measures of English comprehension predicted reading speed, but not differences in syntactic processing. However, a trend for ASL self-ratings to predict the ability to handle syntactic complexity approached significance. Results suggest a need to explore how objective ASL proficiency measures might provide insights into deaf readers’ ability to exploit syntactic cues in English.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Pilar Piñar, Department of World Languages and Cultures, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Avenue NE, Washington DC, 20002


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This research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center Program, under cooperative agreement numbers SBE-0541953 and SBE-1041725. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We thank the NSF Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning at Gallaudet University for providing access to the eye-tracking equipment. Partial support was also provided by a Priority Research Grant from the Gallaudet Research Institute at Gallaudet University to Pilar Piñar, and by NSF Grant OISE-0968369 and NIH Grant 5R21HD071758 to Paola E. Dussias.



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