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The processing of object–subject ambiguities in early second-language acquirers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 July 2020

Robyn Berghoff*
Stellenbosch University
Corresponding author. Email:


Studies of the second language (L2) processing of object–subject ambiguities (OSA), where the parser must revise an initially incorrect analysis of the input, have yielded two findings that the present paper addresses. First, L2 speakers are guided more strongly by plausibility information than L1 speakers in OSA processing. Second, L2 speakers generally do not perform reanalysis in real time, and their comparably poor performance on subsequent comprehension questions suggests ultimate failure to derive a grammatical parse. Because previous studies have targeted later L2 acquirers living outside of an L2 context, the present study tested whether the above two findings hold for childhood L2 acquirers with extensive naturalistic L2 exposure, hypothesizing that these factors would engender more nativelike processing. A self-paced reading task involving two kinds of OSA construction was conducted. Sensitivity to plausibility information differed across the first language and L2 groups per construction type. Within the L2 group, there is evidence that the early childhood acquirers initiated online reanalysis. Comprehension question accuracy did not differ across participant groups, suggesting that all participants succeeded in reanalysis to the same extent. The role of age of onset in L2 processing is discussed, as is the findings’ relevance to current models of L2 processing.

Original Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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