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The effect of exposure on syntactic parsing in Spanish–English bilinguals



An eye tracking experiment examined how exposure to a second language (L2) influences sentence parsing in the first language. Forty-four monolingual Spanish speakers, 24 proficient Spanish–English bilinguals with limited immersion experience in the L2 environment and 20 proficient Spanish–English bilinguals with extensive L2 immersion experience read temporarily ambiguous constructions. The ambiguity concerned whether a relative clause (RC) that appeared after a complex noun phrase (NP) was interpreted as modifying the first or the second noun in the complex NP (El policía arrestó a la hermana del criado que estaba enferma desde hacía tiempo). The results showed that whereas the Spanish monolingual speakers and the Spanish–English bilinguals with limited exposure reliably attached the relative clause to the first noun, the Spanish–English bilingual with extensive exposure attached the relative to the second noun. Results are discussed in terms of models of sentence parsing most consistent with the findings.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence Paola E. Dussias, Penn State University, Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, 211 Burrowes Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA E-mail:


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The writing of this paper was supported in part by a Research and Graduate Studies Office Grant from the College of the Liberal Arts, Penn State University, and by NIH Grant HD50629 to Paola Dussias. Portions of this paper were presented at the Colloquium on Language Convergence held during the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, Phoenix, Arizona. We thank the colloquium organizer, A. Jacqueline Toribio. Our deepest gratitude to Teresa Bajo, Tracy Cramer, Chip Gerfen, Noriko Hoshino, Judy Kroll, Maya Misra and the attendees of the Language Science Research Group at Penn State for stimulating discussions. We are thankful to the two anonymous reviewers and David Green for their careful reading of the paper and for insightful comments and suggestions. Finally, thanks to Charles Clifton, Jr. and Manuel Carreiras for generously sharing their experimental stimuli with us. All errors are, of course, our sole responsibility.



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