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Cross-linguistic differences and their impact on L2 sentence processing*



Using a self-paced reading task, the present study investigates how highly proficient second language (L2) speakers of German with English as their native language process unambiguous wh-subject-extractions and wh-object-extractions in German. Previous monolingual research has shown that English and German exhibit different processing preferences for the type of wh-question under investigation, due in part to the robust case-marking system in German – a morphosyntactic feature that is largely absent in English (e.g., Juffs and Harrington, 1995; Fanselow, Kliegl and Schlesewsky 1999; Meng and Bader, 2000; Juffs, 2005). The results revealed that the L2 German speakers utilized case-marking information and exhibited a subject-preference similar to German native speakers. These findings are discussed in light of relevant research regarding the ability of L2 speakers to adopt native-like processing strategies in their L2.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Carrie N. Jackson, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, 311 Burrowes Building, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802,


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This study was funded in part by grants from Language Learning – A Journal of Research in Language Studies and from the Children Youth and Families Consortium at Pennsylvania State University. We would like to thank Susan Bobb, Mark Louden and Helena Ruf for their help in collecting the L2 speaker data, and Sonja Kotz and other members of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science in Leipzig, Germany, for their help in collecting the German native speaker data. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Center for Language Science at Penn State. We are grateful to the attendees for their insightful comments. Finally, we would like to thank the anonymous Bilingualism reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this article. All errors are, of course, our own.



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