Lexicalized structural priming in second language online sentence comprehension


Prior work has shown intriguing differences between first language (L1) and second language (L2) comprehension priming of relative clauses. We investigated English reduced relative clause priming in Chinese adult learners of English. Participants of different education levels read sentences in a self-paced, moving window paradigm. Critical sentences had a temporarily ambiguous reduced relative clause. Across lists, critical sentences were rotated, so that they occurred either as prime or as target, and had either the same or different verb as the critical sentence with which they were paired. Prime/target pairs were separated by several filler sentences, which never contained a relative clause. Mean reading times for the disambiguating region in the target sentences were faster than in the prime sentences, but only in the same-verb condition, not in the different- verb condition. This pattern of results is consistent with L1 comprehension priming research, suggesting that similar lexically specific mechanisms are involved in L1 and L2 comprehension priming of reduced relative clauses. These findings are in line with lexicalist accounts of sentence comprehension (e.g. MacDonald et al., 1994), according to which syntactic information is bound to specific words. In addition, these findings argue against theories that postulate fundamental differences in processing of L1 and L2 (e.g. Clahsen and Felser, 2006a, 2006b).

Second Language Research