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date: 16 December 2017

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

Summary and Keywords

The distinction between representations and processes is central to most models of the cognitive science of language. Linguistic theory informs the types of representations assumed, and these representations are what are taken to be the targets of second language acquisition. Epistemologically, this is often taken to be knowledge, or knowledge-that. Techniques such as Grammaticality Judgment tasks are paradigmatic as we seek to gain insight into what a learner’s grammar looks like. Learners behave as if certain phonological, morphological, or syntactic strings (which may or may not be target-like) were well-formed. It is the task of the researcher to understand the nature of the knowledge that governs those well-formedness beliefs.

Traditional accounts of processing, on the other hand, look to the real-time use of language, either in production or perception, and invoke discussions of skill or knowledge-how. A range of experimental psycholinguistic techniques have been used to assess these skills: self-paced reading, eye-tracking, ERPs, priming, lexical decision, AXB discrimination, and the like. Such online measures can show us how we “do” language when it comes to activities such as production or comprehension.

There has long been a connection between linguistic theory and theories of processing as evidenced by the work of Berwick (The Grammatical Basis of Linguistic Performance). The task of the parser is to assign abstract structure to a phonological, morphological, or syntactic string; structure that does not come directly labeled in the acoustic input. Such processing studies as the Garden Path phenomenon have revealed that grammaticality and processability are distinct constructs.

In some models, however, the distinction between grammar and processing is less distinct. Phillips says that “parsing is grammar,” while O’Grady builds an emergentist theory with no grammar, only processing. Bayesian models of acquisition, and indeed of knowledge, assume that the grammars we set up are governed by a principle of entropy, which governs other aspects of human behavior; knowledge and skill are combined. Exemplar models view the processing of the input as a storing of all phonetic detail that is in the environment, not storing abstract categories; the categories emerge via a process of comparing exemplars.

Linguistic theory helps us to understand the processing of input to acquire new L2 representations, and the access of those representations in real time.

Keywords: processing, second language acquisition, bilingualism

1. Using a Second Language

For most people, it is a daily occurrence to either speak in a second language or listen to someone speaking in a second language. Therefore, the study of second language processing (either production or perception) is central to understanding the linguistic abilities of humans. Because many of the properties of this processing are unconscious, it is not obvious that there are many factors that underlie our linguistic abilities. This article will focus on the role of linguistic theory (or, perhaps more accurately, theories) in describing and explaining the processing of second language speech.

Linguistic theory is intended to account for the often unconscious, systematic knowledge of a native speaker of a particular language. Why is it grammatical in French but ungrammatical in English to say I drink often coffee? Why is stop a possible word in English but not in Spanish? Monolingual, native speakers are taken as the starting point, not because they are more interesting or more important but because they provide a baseline for description. If linguistic theory provides an account of the grammatical system of the phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics of, say, a native speaker of French, then this will be the baseline for understanding (a) what the French speaker transfers in the attempt to acquire a second language, and (b) what second language learners are trying to acquire when they learn French. The linguist may then compare the grammars of monolinguals with second language learners in order to understand the nature of the bilingual system. Comparison, however, does not mean rankings or judgments are made. Comparing native and nonnative grammars is like comparing elements on the periodic table. It is illuminating to capture the structure of oxygen or hydrogen, but, when noting the differences, it is not to say that one element is better or more advanced than another. The same is true of native and nonnative grammars.

The study of linguistic competence tries to remove the confounds of linguistic performance. Properties of the physical system (e.g., fatigue) or the physical environment (e.g., ambient noise) may lead to occasional inaccurate production or perception by an individual. However, it does not indicate that the stable, symbolic system (i.e., grammar) is degenerating if a native speaker says I’m teally rired—instead of I’m really tired—or mishears the word peace as peas.

And yet, people are much more than knowers of language, they are users of language. The field of language processing explores how people do things like read, write, listen, and talk. It models how spoken utterances are comprehended and how spoken phrases are planned for articulation. Such domains of inquiry are separate from (though related to) the structure of the mental grammar itself. The psycholinguist seeks an understanding of how second language learners use language. How do they comprehend messages in real time? How do they construct grammatical sentences in conversation?

In introducing a term such as second language learner, though, some clarification is in order. While adult native speakers of a language share many principles of what makes a well-formed phonological, morphological, or syntactic string, nonnative speakers reveal considerable variation in both their competence and performance. There are, of course, many factors that influence this variation: age of acquisition, L2 proficiency, regional dialect, etc. In delimiting the population of second language learners, there is considerable diversity: simultaneous bilinguals from birth, intermediate proficiency L2 users living in a foreign country, instructed adult learners who have studied 120 minutes a week for a year, and children who are in weekend heritage language maintenance classes. Clearly, each of these populations will have unique properties, yet they also share many traits. In this article, the term second language learner is used as an umbrella term to include all of the above categories (and most likely more); it is a maximally inclusive term.

1.1 Representations and Processes

The distinction between representations and processes is central to most models of the cognitive science of language (Pylyshyn, 1984). Given the arbitrariness of language, certain knowledge‑—e.g., entries in the mental lexicon (the English word fork, the Spanish plural marker ‑s), contrastive phonological units (French /p/, Thai /ph/)—needs to be stored in memory as part of a mental representation. In addition to representations, though, there are processes that take as their input an existing representation and produce a new representation. One example would be a syntactic operation like Move which would take an element (like a question word) and move it within the syntactic structure. So, an underlying structure of “We should eat what?” would be transformed (in English) to “What should we eat?” This distinction is maintained in many linguistic frameworks, which reinforces that it is linguistic theory which informs the nature of the assumed linguistic representation in the mind of the person (what Gregg, 1996, calls a property theory). Over time, theories change. The architecture of Lexical Phonology (Mohanan, 1986) is quite different from that of Harmonic Serialism (McCarthy & Pater, 2016). The derivations in Transformational Generative Grammar (Chomsky, 1965) are fundamentally different from Phase-based Syntax (Chomsky, 1999). This has implications for the study of SLA (see Schwartz & Sprouse, 2000, for a discussion of this issue). As will become clear in Section 6, there is no single linguistic theory, and considerable variation amongst current theories.

All theories, however, must address the question of how representations are acquired in either first or second language learning. Drawing on the construct of language learnability (Pinker, 1989; Wexler & Culicover, 1980), consider the task of the linguist. First a model of the grammatical knowledge of the adult, native speaker of the language must be established. Then that grammar must be tested to ensure that such a grammar could be arrived at by the child based on exposure to typical linguistic input (see Yang, 2006, 2016). This is the target end state of L1 acquisition. The initial state of the child’s grammar is the initial state of the language faculty (or more neutrally, the cognitive apparatus). Developmental linguists (interested in transition theories) must model how the learners come to know what they know about the languages they are exposed to. Outside of exceptional cases, first language learners in a speech community converge on a grammar. There is minimal variation in core representations, but variation in skills such as storytelling, essay writing, or poetry writing. For second language learners, the target end state is a grammar of the language of the environment. There is much more variation in the attested end states of second language learning than for first language learning (Birdsong, 2009).

Epistemologically, we may refer to grammatical knowledge as knowledge-that. Crucially, this knowledge is unconscious. Native English speakers may be unable to articulate why “I am walking a dog” is acceptable while “I am hearing a voice” is unacceptable. Grammaticality judgment tasks are paradigmatic as we seek to gain insight into what a learner’s grammar looks like (see Ionin, 2013, for more discussion of diverse methods available for the study of SLA; see also the IRIS web site.) Learners behave as if certain phonological morphological, or syntactic strings (which may or may not be targetlike) were well formed. Proficient knowers of English, for example, are able to judge whether the following strings are well or ill-formed:

  1. a) plant,

  2. b) unpleasantness,

  3. c) I know the man that you saw him,

  4. d) understandityable, and

  5. e) [mrostr].

It is the task of the researcher to understand the nature of the knowledge that governs those well-formedness beliefs. Speakers of a language may not be able to articulate the rules which drive their judgments, but judgments they have, even if there may be areas of knowledge that lead to less certainty in native and nonnative speakers alike. Phillips (2010) notes that native speakers of English vary in whether they judge the following sentences to be grammatical or not:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

Grammaticality judgment tasks are not, however, direct windows onto grammar but need to be treated as psycholinguistic tasks (Schütze, 2016; Gibson & Fedorenko, 2013) with their results interpreted.

Linguistic representations, then, are what are taken to be the targets for second language acquisition. Taking the assumptions of the Full Transfer/Full Access model of SLA (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1996) the initial state of L2 learning is the final state of the L1 grammar.

1.2 Processing and Grammar

Traditional accounts of processing, on the other hand, look to the real-time use of language, either in production or perception, and invoke discussions of skill or knowledge-how. There has long been a connection between linguistic theory and theories of processing as evidenced by the work of Berwick and Weinberg (1986). Structure does not come directly labeled or transparently signaled in the acoustic input. It is the task of a cognitive construct known as a parser to assign abstract structure to a phonological, morphological, or syntactic string in real time. Linguistic theories may posit particular hierarchical structures for “plant” (phonological) or “snowman” (morphological) or “I saw Hermione” (syntactic) in order to explain knowledge, but it is the study of language processing which explores how such structure is assigned to an input string. Processing studies such as the Garden Path phenomenon have revealed that grammaticality and processability are distinct constructs; sentences that are grammatical in a language may well be difficult to parse. The metaphor here is that the processor is led down the garden path in interpreting sentences such as:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

The processor, moving left to right, engages in something like the following “thought” process:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

The speaker may consciously understand it to be analogous to the horse taken past the barn fell, and be able to metalinguistically assign the appropriate structure, but even with explicit knowledge the automatic processor can continue to be led astray. Just as there is a distinction between sentences which are well formed but meaningless (Colourless green ideas sleep furiously) and sentences which are ill-formed but interpretable (What did you bring the book I didn’t want to be read to out of up for?), there is a distinction between the processing of an utterance and its grammaticality.

In some models, however, the distinction between grammar and processing is less clear-cut. See Phillips and Ehrenhofer (2015) for a general discussion. Phillips (1996) consolidated parsing and grammatical principles with his assertion that Parsing Is Grammar (PIG). By proposing that abstract syntactic structures were built from left to right (as dictated by a condition of Merge Right) and subject to an economy principle of Branch Right, the lines between grammar and processing were blurred. For Phillips (Lewis & Phillips, 2015), the mental grammar is a “real-time computational system.” O’Grady (2005) builds an emergentist theory with no grammar, only processing. Bayesian models of acquisition (Hayes & Wilson, 2008), and indeed of knowledge, assume that the grammars we set up are governed by a principle of entropy which governs other aspects of human behaviour; knowledge and skill are combined. Exemplar models (Pierrehumbert, 2001) view the processing of the input as a storing of all phonetic detail that is in the environment, not storing abstract categories; the categories emerge via a process of comparing exemplars.

With all its diversity, linguistic theory, broadly conceived, helps illuminate the processing of input to acquire new L2 representations, and the access of those representations in real time.

2. Technologies

A range of experimental psycholinguistic techniques have been used to assess the skills necessary for processing or accessing representations, including self-paced reading, eye-tracking, ERPs, MEG, priming, lexical decision, and AXB discrimination. Such online measures can reveal how the dynamics of language when it comes to activities such as production or comprehension. Which technology or technique is used is, of course, dependent on the question being asked. ERPs are good at providing detailed timelines of processing but less-good at localization. Self-paced reading can reveal parts of a sentence which slow processing down, but eye-tracking can reveal more of what is happening during those processing times. For a good overview see Roberts (2012) and Marinis (2003).

3. Components of Processing

Research tends to be divided as to the level of representation investigated in processing studies: phonological, lexical, or syntactic. Morphological structure and processing are here considered under the rubric of syntax both because there is a longer history to the study of syntactic processing and because they both share properties of hierarchical constituent structure (Selkirk, 1982), but see Libben and Jarema (2006) for an overview of issues in morphological processing. Section 5 addresses the phonological level, but first consider lexical and syntactic processing. Much research assumes a divide between the two.

3.1 Lexical Processing

One of the central issues that have been probed in lexical processing is the question of selective versus nonselective access to the lexicon. Going back to the work of Weinreich (1963), researchers have asked whether the two languages of a bilingual are stored separately. The metaphor of the mental lexicon helps here when we ask: Is there one dictionary or two? Costa (2005) provides a good overview. A basic empirical question is whether, in a monolingual task, lexical items from the language not in use affect the processing of the language that is in use. The bulk of evidence suggests that they do. Consider the type of evidence provided by Dijkstra, Grainger, & van Heuven (1999) who looked at interlingual homographs and interlingual homophones. What they conclusively found was that words which were spelled the same (in the two languages of a bilingual; homographs) facilitated lexical access (as measured by reduced response time in a lexical decision task) whereas words which were pronounced the same (in the two languages of a bilingual; homophones) impeded lexical access (as measured by increased response times in a LDT). Thus, even though a task was conducted entirely, say, in English, the properties of, say, Dutch words (in the bilingual lexicon) affected the processing of the English words. All this is completely below the conscious radar of the subjects. In the following chart, the capital letters indicate which elements are shared (Semantics, Orthography, Phonology).

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

Nakayama and Archibald (2005) showed similar effects in an eye-tracking study of sentence reading with longer fixations on interlingual homophones. This both confirms the basic finding in a more natural task (sentence reading as opposed to lexical decision) and shows that lexical effects are relevant to sentence processing.

3.2 Neurolinguistic Processing and the "Language Switch"

There are many aspects to the neurolinguistics of bilingualism (Wang et al., 2007). Studies (Kim, Relkin, Lee, & Hirsch, 1997; Perani et al., 1998) have looked at the localization of L1 versus L2. The effects of age of onset of acquisition have been probed (Weber-Fox & Neville, 1996) via ERP studies. There is also a rich tradition of looking at the processes which govern how a bilingual switches between the two languages appropriately (Jared & Kroll, 2001; Kroll, Bobb, & Wodniecka, 2006). While it is true that there are occasions where we see language mixing or code switching) sometimes in the most proficient of bilinguals, bilinguals are remarkably good at keeping the two languages apart even though we know from studies on the bilingual lexicon (Costa, 2005) that all languages are active all the time.

Green (1998) proposed the Inhibitory Control model, and more recently (Green & Abutalebi, 2013) the Adaptive Control Hypothesis. This research program suggests that the non-active language is suppressed via cognitive executive control. Recent work in Pylkkänen’s lab has shown how linguistic theory can inform the study of language switching. Blanco-Elorrieta and Pylkkänen (2015, 2016) investigate language switching in both production and comprehension. They compare the activation of a particular language by a linguistic cue (e.g., orthography) versus a cultural cue (e.g., traditional dress in a photo). The orthographic script condition was activated more automatically and required more executive control to suppress. Their work shows that there is not a ‘single’ language switch as different neurological systems are implicated in a production switch compared to a comprehension switch. Furthermore, their works shows that there is a close relationship between the regions of interest in executive control of language and general cognition in production tasks but not so in comprehension tasks. This type of work has the potential of informing the debate on emergentist versus essentialist (i.e., domain-specific) approaches.

Pylkkänen, Llinás, and Murphy’s earlier (2006) work using the MEG M350 signature to investigate polysemy, also has some possible implications for bilingual processing. They provided evidence for single category-neutral root activation in polysemes (as opposed to homophones which activate different entries) in monolinguals. Given the nonselective nature of the bilingual lexicon, it is interesting to speculate whether words like English cat, French chat and German katze could be thought of as interlingual allomorphs which share a category-neutral root (or lemma) which has different post-syntactic spell-out. In the terms of Dijkstra, Grainger, and Van Heuven (1999) shown in the above chart, these would be forms which shared Orthography alone. The M350 (as it is sensitive to root frequency) also has the potential to address some of the questions raised by Friedline (2011) probing the Shallow Processing Hypothesis (Clahsen et al., 2010,; Silva & Clahsen, 2008) concerning lack of control for frequency of complex versus simple primes. Baayen et al. (2011) raises more general questions about investigating lexical neighborhood effects in explain seeming shallow-processing results.

3.3 A Single Engine

There is one theoretical approach which unifies the lexical and the syntactic approaches: distributed morphology (Halle & Marantz, 1993; McGinnis, 2016). This is a model where vocabulary items are inserted into a syntactic frame post-syntactically and thus receive phonological content only at the spell-out stage which is the interface between syntax and phonology. What we traditionally think of as affixes are, the realization of an abstract bundle of syntactic features, while what we think of as lexical forms are category-neutral roots which are merged with functional heads (such as v or n) to generate lexical categories.

While admittedly, there has not been much SLA work done within a DM perspective, there has been some. The Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis (MSIH; Prévost & White, 2000) is one approach to the well-studied question of why L2ers sometimes omit inflectional morphemes in their production. Hawkins and Chan (1997) argue that the interlanguage grammar is deficient in that it lacks certain target grammatical features (e.g., [+past]) while Tsimpli and Dimitrakopoulou (2007) refine this to note that only L2 uninterpretable features are lacking. Lardiere (2007) ascribes the variable presence of the affixes as a mapping problem from an intact feature to a surface form. The MSIH localizes the problem to the mapping of a morphological form onto a phonological representation. In this way, it is consistent with the DM architecture, as it is the Spell-Out of the syntactic feature bundle which is nonnativelike.

Alexiadou et al. (2015) do not specifically tackle second language learning. However, they do invoke DM to document the properties of code-mixed speech. The examples they give come from speakers of Norwegian in the United States. These subjects will produce sentences such as:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

There are English lexical items inserted into a Norwegian syntactic structure. Note that the grammatical morphology (i.e., past; indefinite plural) comes from the Norwegian syntax. Crucially, note that these are examples of intra-word code switching. The spell-out (or realization) of the syntactic features (such as [PAST] or [INDEF.PL]) are the result of the features found in the Norwegian syntactic structure even though the lexical items (play and game) are English. Thus, a single-engine account of the processing of word structure and sentence structure is able to account elegantly for this kind of data where the syntactic structure explains the morphological properties of the code-switch.

4. Syntactic Processing

There are many ways to investigate sentence processing (in either production or comprehension). The study of processing in comprehension tasks is usually referred to as parsing. Processing involves the investigation of many phenomena. Studies may look at the interpretation of ambiguity in relative clauses, or the processing of traces in movement constructions. As Phillips (2012) suggests, there is a long history of probing parser–grammar relations from the early days of the Derivational Theory of Complexity (Fodor & Garrett, 1967) to Phillips’ own current work. Levelt (1989) assigns primary status to the lemma in production which then triggers access to syntactic frames in building a sentence. Gibson (1998) and Levy, Fedorenko, Breen, and Gibson (2012) looks to test the predictions of abstract syntactic representations in the interpretation of sentences in real time. In SLA, we have seen the work of Juffs (Juffs & Rodriguez, 2015) demonstrate how numerous factors can play a significant role in the interpretation of complex sentences.

4.1 Filler Gaps

The literature which explores the interpretation of WH sentences often invokes the phrase filler–gap dependencies: the wh-phrase fills in the information found in the position left by the syntactic trace. As grammatical relations are determined at Merge (i.e., before Move) then processing a sentence with moved elements requires some unpacking. Merge is the operation that generates the constituent structure of a sentence. Consider the following sentences:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

In the first sentence, the wh-phrase functions as the subject of the embedded clause while in the second sentence the wh-phrase functions as the object. This is clear from the underlying syntactic structure (indicated by the gap position) but is not indicated in the surface sentential string.

White and Juffs (1998), in addition to a grammaticality judgment task, measured response time as an indicator of processing difficulty. They noted, however, that RTs on a grammaticality judgment task reveal nothing of the locus of processing difficulty. So, we might discover that one sentence is processed more quickly than another, but this may not reveal where the processing difficulty lies. Self-paced reading studies are able to answer this question by exploring incremental processing in different sentence types.

Juffs and Harrington (1995) showed that the subject extraction gap site was the locus of reading delay and confusion in NNS. So in a sentence like:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

it is exactly at the gap position that we find the longest fixation times. They interpret this to indicate that the subject extraction is the reason for lower accuracy scores they reported on the grammaticality judgment of subject-extracted wh-questions. Similarly, Felser et al. (2012) argue that L2ers have a delayed sensitivity to structural gaps. Pliatsikas and Marinis (2013) probed this issue by comparing a group of classroom learners with a group of naturalistic learners (L1 Greek; L2 English). They found that the naturalistic learners showed evidence of filler–gap effects, while the classroom learners did not.

4.2 Near-Nativelike Knowledge and Processing of Wh-Questions

White and Genesee (1996) looked at the question of nativelike knowledge and ability of L2ers at various different ages of acquisition. Many of the previous studies on effects of age (Coppieters, 1987; Birdsong, 1992) have relied on casual or anecdotal assessment of the near-nativelike status prior to testing. White and Genesee administered independent measures of nativeness prior to final subject selection. Without getting into the technical details, they were interested in the processing of WH questions and the constraints on movement related to what are known as strong islands (complex NPs, adjuncts, subjects). Strong islands are said to form barriers to movement which is what accounts for the ungrammaticality of sentences such as:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

They looked at 89 subjects who were evaluated independently on their pronunciation, morphology, syntax, vocabulary, fluency, and overall nativeness on a scale from 1–18 (18 being most nativelike). Individuals who were rated at either 17 or 18 on all scales by both judges (with one score allowed to be below 17) were classified as near-native. By this procedure, they identified 45 near-native speakers. Subjects were administered an online grammaticality judgment task for which both accuracy and response time were measured. Overall, there was no statistical difference between the accuracy judgments (on both grammatical and ungrammatical sentences) of the native speakers and the near-native speakers. The RT data looked at responses to both grammatical and ungrammatical sentences. There were no significant differences between near-natives and natives on any of the sentence types. White and Genesee thus conclude that both knowledge and processing in the L2 are nativelike.

4.3 Ambiguous Relative Clauses

One set of data which show the effects on processing grammatical utterances cross-linguistically, is relative clause attachment. Consider sentences of the following type:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

In this sentence, it is ambiguous as to who was on the balcony: the actress or the servant. If it is the actress who was on the balcony, we say that this is low attachment (LA) whereas if the servant is on the balcony, we say the relative clause evidences high attachment (HA) in the syntactic structure.

These attachment preferences vary cross-linguistically. English speakers prefer LA (Cuetos & Mitchell, 1988). Spanish speakers prefer HA (Fernandez, 2002). Japanese speakers prefer HA (Kamide & Mitchell, 1997). Of course, preference can be forced or biased pragmatically, as shown in the following sentences:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

World knowledge predisposes a listener to believe that it would the servant who is serving tea, and the actress who is very famous. However, even when there is no pragmatic or semantic biasing there can be variation in attachment preference within a single language. Pynte and Colonna (2000) demonstrate that French speakers prefer HA when the relative clause is long as in who cried all through the night but show no preference when the relative clause in short as in who cried. Thus, phonology explains the performance variation. This is relevant because both Papadopoulou and Clahsen (2003)—who looked at L1 Greek (high attachment) subjects acquiring English (low attachment)—and Felser et al. (2003)—who looked at German and Greek learners of English—suggest that the L2ers are not showing a relative-clause attachment preference (unlike the NSers). Fernandez (2006), however, points out that this may not be because of either (a) the subjects lack the appropriate structures, or (b) cannot process “deep” syntax, but rather because prosody has not been properly controlled for. If there is a misalignment with syntactic preference with implicit prosody then the results may well turn out to be random. Further work on the role of input frequency (Dussias & Sagarra, 2007) and of individual memory (Swets et al., 2007; Wen, Borges Mota, & McNeill, 2015) show that there are other factors to be considered before it can be suggested that there is a qualitative difference in L2 processing.

4.4 Binding Theory

There is also a body of work which investigates the processing of sentences to probe whether the grammatical binding relationships are used in real-time (Felser, Sato, & Bertenshaw, 2009; Felser & Cunnings, 2012). One of the reasons this is of interest is that languages can vary in the binding relations they allow. In the following Chinese sentence, the reflexive ziji can refer back to any of the possible italicized antecedents; what is known as long-distance binding.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

In the following English sentence, the reflexive self can only be coreferent with Bill.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

There are many complex issues to be explored here but the broad findings are that L2ers can acquire new binding domains in the L2 which are different that the L1 (Thomas, 1993). Many of these acquisition studies use offline tasks (e.g., truth-value or acceptability judgment tasks). Kim, Montrul, and Yoon (2015) looked at the L2 processing of binding relations in an eye-tracking study. Their study showed that nonnative speakers were able to process anaphoric reflexives (such as himself) in a more nativelike fashion than pronouns (such as him). They suggest that their adult L2 learners were able to apply syntactic binding principles to assign interpretation to anaphoric expressions but have difficulty integrating syntactic information with contextual and discourse information.

4.5 The Shallow Processing Hypothesis

The results seen in 4.3 led Clahsen and Felser (2006a, 2006b) to propose the Shallow Structure Hypothesis, which argues that L2ers’ processing is syntactically shallower than native processing. L2 processing, they argue, relies more heavily on lexical and pragmatic information than it does on syntactic structure, and this also leads to greater processing time. They argue that second language learners can achieve nativelike processing for phenomena involving local dependencies (e.g., gender agreement within a noun phrase), but not for phenomena involving nonlocal dependencies (e.g., anaphoric reference). They suggest that while a full parse might consult all of the syntactic details (such as empty categories and coindexing) shown in the following sentence:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

that a shallow parse would proceed more along the following steps:

  1. (i) the doctor is assigned the role of AGENT of the verb argue,

  2. (ii) the rude patient is assigned the role of THEME of the verb angered, and

  3. (iii) the nurse is assigned the role of EXPERIENCER of the verb angered.

Thus, an interpretation can be arrived at using what are known as thematic roles to capture the semantic relations between the constituents of the sentence. An agent is an entity that performs an action; a theme undergoes an action but does not change state; an experiencer receives sensory input.

Kim Montrul and Yoon (2015) also address the Shallow Processing claims of Felser and Cunnings (2012) who concluded that L2 processing cannot fully utilize syntactic resources. KM&Y argue that the processing of their advanced subjects demonstrates the ability to process elaborate syntactic representations.

Clahsen et al. (2010) argue that L2 processing (both morphological and syntactic) relies more on declarative than procedural knowledge (drawing on the work of Ullman, 2001) and will thus invoke less morphological decomposition than native processing. Silva and Clahsen (2008) showed that L2ers had significantly slower response times (compared with natives) in a priming study when it came to the effect of a morphologically complex form (like kindness) on a monomorphemic form (like kind) in a lexical decision task. However, what this does not take into account is the frequency effects, in that the morphologically complex forms (kindness) are often less frequent than the simple forms (kind). This too can influence the processing effects found in the L2ers (see Archibald & Libben, in press). Native speakers of English show access to the word corn as a result of seeing corner (Lehtonen, Monahan, & Poeppel, 2011). Does it follow that second language speakers should be seen as less developed in terms of English morphology if they do not show this effect? Shallow Processing is discussed further in Section 7.

5. Phonological Processing

Of course, one of the major types of processing in SLA that must be considered is the processing of the sound system.

5.1 Cross-Linguistic Speech Perception

At the phonetic end of the spectrum, there is a rich literature on cross-linguistic speech perception (Flege, 1995; Best & Tyler, 2007; Escudero & Vasilev, 2011) which explore how “foreign” sounds are processed by an L1 system. Rochet (1995) for example, notes that English speakers typically produce a [ü] (a high, front, rounded vowel) sound as [u] (getting the [back] feature wrong) while Brazilian Portuguese speakers produce it as [i] (getting the [round] feature wrong).

Questions arise as to whether inaccurate production arises from inaccurate perception, and, perhaps more tellingly, what type of perception. Discrimination studies have been conducted (e.g., Brown, 2000) which explore whether L2ers can discriminate a sound which is not found in the L1. A variety of tasks can be used, but to take a simple example, subjects would be presented with stimuli like the following:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

And asked to press one button if the stimuli are the same and another button if the stimuli are different. Both response times and accuracy can be measured.

We are also interested to know, though, whether the subjects can use these sounds to distinguish lexical items. In other words, can they represent the phonological contrast? To answer this questions, subjects might be given a forced choice picture selection task where subjects are presented with a single picture while listening to a minimal pair auditory file and have to indicate whether they are looking at, say, a picture of a ‘rake’ or a ‘lake.’ Again, response time and accuracy can be measured.

Werker and Logan (1985) have shown the importance of methodological factors such as inter-stimulus interval (ISI) when it comes to tapping into discriminatory ability. Referring back to the example above, they note that results may vary depending on whether the ISI is more or less than 500 ms. This is because our ability to access representations decays rapidly. Shorter ISIs allow the subjects to make phonetic or acoustic comparisons, but if there is a longer pause between the stimuli, then actual stored (phonemic) representations must be consulted, as the phonetic information is no longer accessible. So, a Japanese speaker, lacking a phonemic /l/ vs. /r/ contrast may be able to discriminate the sounds with a short ISI but be unable to accurately identify the correct picture when hearing the lexical items ‘rake’ or ‘lake’ with a long ISI.

The previous discussion demonstrates that we should be able to tell whether or not an individual represents a particular contrast. But how is such a contrast acquired over time? Gonzalez Poot (2014) provides a discussion of how such feature acquisition may take place in SLA. He looked at native speakers of Spanish acquiring Yucatec Mayan ejectives. Ejectives are a class of sound made with the feature [constricted glottis], a feature absent in Spanish. He shows that the L2ers are able to acquire the new feature but that the contrast is not acquired across-the-board. Their pattern of accuracy in syllable onsets is different from their pattern of accuracy in syllable codas. In the following schema, the > symbol is to be read as ‘is more accurate than’:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

What this reveals is that not all exemplars of [constricted glottis] are parsed at the same time. It may well be the case that the obstruent release bursts in the onsets (e.g., [k’]) are processed more easily while the strident release bursts in the codas are processed more easily. Thus, the developmental path (which is also grounded typologically) can be explained by phonetic processing. The phonetic processing (hence perceptual accuracy) paves the way for grammatical restructuring and the phonologicization of the phonological feature [constricted glottis]. Archibald (2013) formalizes this via the construct of intake frequency. The ejectives with the most robust phonetic cues (e.g., onset [k’] and coda [tʃ’]) become intake to the processor earlier than those with less robust cues (e.g., onset [ts’] and coda [t’]). The earlier processing leads to earlier acquisition.

5.2 The Segmentation Problem

One of the first tasks facing the learner exposed to an unfamiliar L2 acoustic stream is to be able to extract and store phonological strings and assign meaning to them. This is what Carroll (2012) refers to as the segmentation problem. Carroll (2014, p. 107) makes clear that “words are not primitives of language.” She demonstrates the ability of first-exposure subjects to segment word-sized units (in this case proper names) from an acoustic stream on the basis of very few trials. How do learners decide where boundaries are in a continuous acoustic signal? Kaye (1990) discusses the role that phonology can play in this regard, emphasizing the delimiting properties of many phonological phenomena (e.g., aspirate at the beginning of a constituent, devoice at the end of a constituent). This is consistent with Shoemaker and Rast (2013), who show that “first-exposure” learners (see also Rast, 2008) recognize sentence-initial or sentence-final words better than sentence-medial words. They attribute this to a sensitivity to the edge of constituents. It is well-documented that prosodic factors influence word recognition (Cutler, 2012), as do phonotactics (Weber & Cutler, 2006). Carroll and Windsor (2015) show how L1 lexical properties (i.e., cognate status) can also influence the segmentation of the signal.

5.3 Perceptual Challenges

A number of studies have argued for perceptual or processing deficits in L2ers. Consider the following two examples:

  1. (1) epenthesis errors in perceptual tasks and

  2. (2) stress “deafness.”

5.3.1 Epenthesis

The phenomenon of syllable repair strategies of L2ers who attempt to acquire and produce phontactic sequences that are not licensed in the L1 grammar is well studied (Abrahamsson, 2003; Kabak & Idsardi, 2007). This is evident when a language borrows a lexical item, and when an L2er produces an unfamiliar sequence.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

Researchers have posited a range of possible explanations for these productions: markedness (Carlisle, 1997; Cardoso, 2007; Cardoso, John & French, 2009), proficiency (Abrahamsson, 2003), task (Lin, 2001)—for an overview see Young-Scholetn and Archibald (2000). Dehaene-Lambertz, Dupoux, and Gout (2000) show that these kinds of repairs are not late production routine strategies but rather appear as perceptual illusions driven by the properties of the L1 grammar.

Matthews and Brown (2004) also address this issue, and their title is illustrative: “When intake exceeds input.” Without going into details, it is a property of Japanese phonotactics that a string like ‘ebzo’ is ill-formed in that [b] cannot appear in a coda position. When illicit sequences arise in Japanese they can be repaired via epenthesis. So an English word like ‘handbag’ when borrowed into the language might be pronounced [hændɯbægɯ] where an epenthetic [ɯ] is inserted to make the form fit the L1 rules. Similarly, ‘baseball’ would be pronounced [besɯbaɾɯ]. What Dehaene-Lambertz, Dupoux, and Gout showed is that the Japanese listeners actually hear the epenthetic [ɯ] in strings (such as [ebzo]) where it is, in fact, absent. The input processed by the learner is mapped onto L1 phonotactic structures. Kabak and Idsardi (2007) demonstrate that this mapping is mediated by syllable structure and not just linear adjacency.

5.3.2 Stress Deafness

In a series of studies, Dupoux and colleagues have looked at the processing of stress in L2ers. Their conclusions are that certain L1 groups have difficulty discriminating contrastive stress on a variety of tasks, even into advanced proficiency levels. They catalogue languages in the following way with respect to their ability to ‘hear’ English stress:

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

Their analysis is that Spanish has what they call lexical stress while French, Finnish, Hungarian, and Polish do not (Peperkamp & Dupoux, 2002). This is an important body of research that can be accessed here. I will not summarize or critique the behavioral results here but rather probe the linguistic assumptions underlying the causal claims. It could be argued their results do show difficulty in processing but not necessarily deficient representations (as is indicated perhaps by their use of the term deafness). As the work of Lardiere (1998) demonstrates, problems in surface processing of a feature may arise even when there is accurate underlying representation.

There are some concerns with the theoretical assumptions about linguistic stress. Linguistic theory definitely has a part to play here. The work seems to assume a diacritic notion of “lexical stress” where stress is assumed to be stored as part of the representation of the vowel in the word. Three of the languages they refer to as exhibiting stress deafness (French, Finnish, and Hungarian) all exhibit certain fixed stress patterns. French stresses toward the right edge of phonological strings while Finnish and Hungarian stress toward the left edge of strings (specifically word-initially). Polish, which exhibits partial deafness, has primarily penultimate stress. Spanish, which does not show deafness, has, like English, variable stress placement.

The problem with the causal connection proposed in this literature is that the stress placement of all of these languages is the product of a set of complex factors or principles (see Dresher & Kaye, 1992), not a primitive diacritic. Archibald (1991, 1993) has looked at the production and perception abilities of native speakers of Hungarian, Spanish, and Polish. He has argued that stress is not a monotonic, primitive of linguistic representation but rather a complex system of knowledge which L2ers must, and evidently, can acquire.

Pater (1997) argued that French L1 subjects are able acquire English trochaic feet but not the Quantity Sensitivity of English. Furthermore, Tremblay (2008) showed that only those learners who had acquired English stress settings could use stress as a tool for lexical access. Once again, this shows the importance of distinguishing between representation and process. Ultimately, what all this shows us is that the studies reveal something about processing but are not a direct window onto representation.

5.4 The Role of Orthography

One factor often explored in the processing of L2 input is the orthography. This is clearly paramount in lexical decision, and other reading tasks but also plays a role in phonological processing and word learning. It must also be remembered that not all subjects are literate (either in the L1 or the L2) and that this needs to be controlled for (see the Low-Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition (LESSLA) works for more information). Bassetti, Escudero, and Hayes-Harb (2015) explore some of these issues. Admittedly, the empirical findings are a bit scattered. Some studies (Escudero, Hayes-Harb, & Mitterer, 2008; Showalter & Hayes-Harb, 2013) show that L2 orthographic input can facilitate production, perception, and word learning, while others argue that it hinders targetlike acquisition (Bassetti, 2007; Hayes-Harb, Nichol, & Barker, 2010). Still others (Escudero & Wanrooij, 2010; Simon, Chamblessb, & Alvesc, 2010) show mixed effects or no effect. Cutler (2015) suggests that while orthographic information may help L2ers to form distinct lexical representations, it will not help them to discriminate the sounds in perception.

5.5 Phonological Production

If we can expand our discussion of processing just briefly into the realm of production, consider some studies by Bongaerts and colleagues, which focus on the question of ultimate attainment in L2 speech. There are clearly age effects in SLA; the age of onset of learning the L2 is one of the factors (along with things like transfer, motivation, feedback, etc.) which can affect the end state. Stated broadly, L2ers who begin SLA later tend to have stronger accents than those who begin earlier (Flege, Munro, & Mackay, 1995, 1996). And, while acknowledging that accent is just one small part of L2 communicative competence (Bachman, 1990), the question of whether there are any late learners who can perform within the range of NS (native speaker) ability with respect to global accent is an intriguing one. As White and Genesee (1996) showed, there are late learners who perform indistinguishably from NSers with respect to both accuracy and response time of syntactic tasks. Bongaerts, Mennen, & van der Slik (2000) looked at late learners of Dutch in a reading-aloud task.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

In this (and other) studies, there were some L2ers whose accents were statistically indistinguishable from NS accents. The (2000) study is of interest because it looked at learners who started learning Dutch after the age of 12 and who had acquired it in a naturalistic (i.e., uninstructed) setting. The NSers of Dutch were given global accent ratings between 4.00 and 4.91 while the NNSers (nonnative speakers) were given ratings between 1.70 and 4.49. A score of 1 was “a very strong accent; definitely non-native” while a score of 5 was “no foreign accent; definitely native”. The mean scores reported were based on the ratings by 21 Dutch NS judges. The NNSers who were scored with two standard deviations of the NSers were taken as nativelike. This resulted in 4 of the 30 subjects falling into the nativelike category. What this shows is that it is not impossible for L2ers who started learning the second language later is life to achieve even pronunciation proficiency that has a definite motoric production component.

There is, of course, a rich literature in the field of individual variation in SLA (Dörnyei, 2010), and it is not the goal of this article to address it. This research demonstrates that even in the realm of speech, the area most-associated with nonnativelike production, there are some late learners who can achieve nativelike pronunciation.

For a corpus of second language accents in English, see this website.

For more information on improving L2 pronunciation in English, visit this website.

6. Theoretical Models

6.1 Bayesian Approaches

Looking at recent work in Optimality Theory, we can see some other approaches that blur the lines between grammar and processing. Optimality Theory seeks to explain phonological patterns via violable output constraints on production. An optimal string will be produced regardless of the underlying representation due to the ranking of a variety of linguistic constraints. Tessier (2016) provides a nice overview of the model in the domain of child phonology. Regardless of the particular model of OT assumed—classical (Prince & Smolensky, 2004), stratal (Bermudez Otero, in preparation), or harmonic serial (McCarthy & Pater, 2016)—the function of the grammar is to select an optimal output candidate by the ranking of constraints. The grammatical machinery brings together phonetics, phonology, markedness, and typology. Much of the work (Tessier & Jesney, 2014) is explicitly concerned with modeling the learning of input forms, constraint rankings, and output forms. Of particular interest to this article are the models that invoke Bayesian probability (Watanabe & Chien, 2015) and the construct of entropy in seeking to explain learner behavior. Bayesian models are “inductive” (see Perfors, Tenenbaum, Gibson, and Regier (2010). They are good at handling induction problems when there is “insufficient data.” These are accounts that argue that knowledge (or belief) is governed by the same principles as action. The change in the state of the current grammar is made to maximize the entropy of the system.

Wilson and Davidson (2009) look at the gradient production effects evident in the production of nonnative consonant clusters. Not all clusters that are absent from the L1 are treated in the same way. Their subjects listen to and produce clusters that are allowed in Russian but not in English. They note that “they are more likely to faithfully represent nonce words beginning with illegal fricative–nasal clusters (e.g., zmagu) than nonce words beginning with illegal fricative–stop clusters (e.g., zbatu) because the former have higher acceptability according to the English phonotactic grammar.” The explanation they invoke is as follows. Given a particular stimulus {z} (produced by a Russian native speaker), the probability that an English listener will represent {z} as [x] is, according to Bayes Theorem, proportional to the probability that [x] would be realized as {z} multiplied by the probability of [x] in English independent of the stimulus based on comparison with an English corpus.

Representational choices are made based on the phonotactic probability of occurrence, which they model via Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) (Hayes & Wilson, 2008). Research within this framework would take the production evidence from an elicited imitation task, argue that the chosen output candidate was selected via a principle of maximizing entropy, and claim that this entropic principle underlies our grammatical knowledge of well-formedness. Thus, well-formedness derives from mapping input auditory properties to a rich environmental, phonetically-detailed corpus. Critics of this approach would argue that differential output frequency has nothing to do with well-formedness. Adopting this as a model of acquiring phonological representations runs directly into Dresher’s (1999) epistemological problem. There is still the need for a transducer to get from the vocabulary of the acoustic input to the vocabulary of phonological cognition.

These researchers, thus, extend a notion drawn from knowledge-how and apply it to knowledge-that. Critics of this kind of Bayesian epistemology (Dretske, 2003; Pollock, 1990) argue that human beliefs (i.e., knowledge of well-formedness of strings) are not gradient in this fashion.

6.2 Processability Theory

Processability Theory (Pienemann, 1998) invokes a modular processing approach based on Levelt’s (1989) production model. He argues that, at any stage of development, the learner is able to produce only those L2 forms that the processor can handle. The developmental path, and hence hierarchy of processing difficulty is formalized through Lexical Functional Grammar (Bresnan, 2001). In this respect, it differs from the Competition Model (Bates & MacWhinney, 1981, 1987) which, also a processing model, is a functionalist model which invokes domain-general processing machinery. An example of such a developmental path would be the acquisition of German word order by L2ers from differing L1s. Pienemann (1989) draws attention to the stages of development noted in Clahsen (1984):

1.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

2.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

3.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

4.

Second Language Processing and Linguistic Theory

Clahsen (1984) argued that this developmental path is guided by the processability of certain sentential positions. Adverb preposing comes early because an element is moved into initial position. Verb separation is acquired before inversion because an element is moved into final position. Initial positions are processed more easily than final positions. Inversion is acquired last because it involves sentence internal displacement. Pienemann (1998) accounts for these insights within an LFG processing model where we see the following (modified from Pienemann, 1998, p. 87) implicational hierarchy of processing procedures:

  • subordinate clause procedure,

  • inter-phrasal morphemes,

  • phrasal morphemes,

  • lexical morphemes, and

  • lemma access.

Learners begin by being able to process at the lemma level and then move up the list. In other words, being able to process the structures at the top of the list implies the ability to process the structures lower on the list. In this way, Pienemann (1998) proposes a processing explanation to the developmental path, rather than a maturational representational account as seen in Vainikka and Young-Scholten (2011).

The work of VanPatten (2004) also brings together processing and instruction (in his Processing Instruction model). He notes that if a second language learner is producing a nontargetlike form as a result of having an inaccurate grammatical representation then having that learner practice and repeat that lexical item (even after explicit corrective feedback) is not going to change the underlying representation. He argues that what will change the underlying representation is instruction which focuses on the input processing rather than the production. VanPatten (2013) reiterates the importance of keeping the notions of grammar, processing, and production distinct.

6.3 Modular On-Line Growth and Use of Language (MOGUL)

The Acquisition by Processing Model of Truscott and Sharwood Smith (2004) developed into the Modular On-Line Growth and Use of Language (MOGUL) (Sharwood Smith & Truscott, 2014) and offers a model of language development within a processing perspective. They adopt a modular view of mind and of linguistic representational levels drawing largely on Jackendoff (1997). Production and comprehension draw on the same mechanisms. Acquisition is operationalized as the strengthening of representational activation levels. The processors are either integrative processors (which function much like parsers at a single level of representation) or interface processors that mediate between the different levels (or modules) of representation (e.g., syntactic, phonological, conceptual). The MOGUL model makes it very clear that there is no single processor but rather many.

6.4 Emergentism

The work of O’Grady (2005) is illustrative of what have come to be known as emergentist views which propose that, rather than being the product of autonomous grammatical principles, the key properties of the human language faculty are shaped by nonlinguistic properties such as attention, memory, physiology, and processing pressures (see MacWhinney & O’Grady, 2015, for an overview). O’Grady (2005) shows how a range of complex syntactic phenomena (e.g., agreement, control, anaphora, wh-effects) can be accounted for by invoking an efficiency-driven processor rather than principles of syntactic structure. In essence, and indeed in his own words, he is proposing “language without grammar.” This builds upon work he has been engaged in since (1987) in the exploration of general nativism, a view in which there are innate components to knowledge and learning but that they are not domain-specific. He allows that there is a conceptual-symbolic system, which encodes words and morphemes and which (following Ullman, 2001) is instantiated in declarative memory. There is also a computational system (procedural memory) invoked to combine lexical items. The combinatorics are to satisfy the dependencies associated with individual words (e.g., number of arguments). The operating system is constrained by principles such as minimize the burden on working memory, or resolve dependencies at the first opportunity. For O’Grady (2006), SLA could be described via the same mechanisms, and he illustrates this thoroughly via quantifier scope. See Gregg (2003) for criticisms of externalist emergentist approaches (as opposed to O’Grady’s general nativism).

6.5 Exemplar Models

Exemplar models fall into the class of usage-based grammar, which is also influential in the field of SLA (Ellis & Wulff, 2012). These models would fall into the Externalist camp, as they view the learner as stochastically modeling the frequency and distribution of the primary data. In this respect, many of the effects attributed to processing in traditional models are here attributed to representation. The learner stores all of this detailed information by memorization and draws on associative memory to find patterns and connections within the data. Like emergentist approaches, these are nonmodular models which focus on the learner acquiring constructions (rather than words and rules). Linguistic structure emerges from the conspiracy of frequency of occurrence and transitional probability. Learning will be influenced by such things as distribution of the construction, recency of the construction in the input, salience and redundancy of the construction, and prototypicality of the exemplar (Ellis & Ferreira-Junior, 2009). See Gullberg et al. (2010) for a discussion of the limitations of the explanatory power of transitional probabilities calculated on natural language input (rather than artificial languages) when it comes to word learning.

6.6 Multiple Grammars

Often one of the reasons that processing explanations are invoked is to explain variable performance in second language subjects. The standard assumption is that knowledge is a relatively stable trait while skill is variable. However, there are certain models which attempt to address variability in other ways. See Montrul (2010), White (2009), and Sorace and Serratrice (2009) for thorough discussions of optionality in SLA.

Roeper (2004) comments on Sharwood Smith and Truscott’s (Acquisition By Processing model) which foreshadows his own (Amaral & Roeper, 2014) Multiple Grammars model for SLA. This is an approach which seeks to account for variation, often attributed to processing factors, via a model of representation. Rather than relying on a processing account alone, Roeper argues for multiple grammars (i.e., representations) within an individual (like the rules that apply to Anglo-Saxon and Latinate vocabulary in English). Some rules are lexically limited while others are productive; these diacritic markings may change as the grammatical knowledge develops. A productive L1 rule will be blocked by a new (more constrained) L2 rule. Via a mechanism of language tagging, the relevant properties of the linguistic representations (such as which language the information came from) are stored. Thus, the L1 grammar is not seen to gradually change into the L2 grammar (as the metaphors of parameter resetting or interlanguage would suggest) but, rather, the complex grammar is added to with new sub-grammars. Incompatible sub-grammars can account for optionality in L2 acquisition.

In a slightly different vein, the competing systems hypothesis (CSH) of Rothman (2008), Long and Rothman (2013) is relevant. The CSH posits two different L2 grammars in an individual. The first is a standard repository of grammatical competence while the second is a separate system of learned, metalinguistic knowledge. While reminiscent of, and indeed adopting some terms from, Krashen (1981), the model makes predictions that are designed to explain errors found in production (subject to the learned system) that are not found in comprehension.

7. The Universal Parser

Dekydspotter, Schwartz, & Sprouse (2006) address the attempts made by a number of researchers (Dussias, 2001; etc.) to account for behavioral differences between native speakers and second language learners by invoking not fundamentally different representations (such as Hawkins & Chan, 1997) but rather by invoking differences in processing speed. Dekydspotter et al. argue that the processing mechanisms of L1 and L2 are the same but the time course of L2 processing is slower. Their “crucial methodological point” (acknowledging Bley-Vroman, 1983) is that “the mere fact that there is an observed non-isomorphy between natives and L2ers does not entail that the natives and the L2ers deploy fundamentally different mechanisms.” One structure they look at is the interpretation of ambiguous relative clauses (see Section 4.3) where in reporting on L2 learners of Greek (Papadopoulou & Clahsen, 2003) and English (Felser et al., 2003) where the L2ers had no attachment preference (unlike the native speakers).

Aside from the empirical facts, Dekydspotter et al. (2006) raise an interesting corollary of this hypothesis concerning the relationship between parsing and learning. As many have pointed out (e.g., Carroll, 2001; Sharwood Smith & Truscott, 2014; Fodor, 1998), failure to parse a given string may be the trigger for learning to take place. This is a key assumption in error-driven models of learning (Gibson & Wexler, 1994). Any description of the developmental path of SLA recognizes that, at some level, learners must be sensitive to a difference between the strings their current grammar can account for and the strings encountered in the linguistic input.

In addressing the observed processing differences between natives and L2ers, Dekydspotter et al. (2006) cite Frenck-Mestre (2005) who showed that L2ers evidence slower and less-efficient reading strategies (as measured by eye-tracking); a quantitative rather than qualitative difference. This raises the possibility that the developing L2 lexicon may not be targetlike so the L2er may take longer to interpret the lexical semantics of the sentence and this can lead to slower processing times.

8. Knowing and Using a Second Language

Given the complexity of human linguistic knowledge, its interaction with other cognitive and physical systems, and the ubiquity of multilingual communicative events around the world, it should not be surprising that the domain of second language processing is diverse. In the roughly fifty years of work alluded to here, there have been great strides made. Our models of second language processing may become more complex, but linguistic theory, whatever the school of thought, will always be a critical component.

Further Reading

Berwick, R., & A. Weinberg (Eds.). (1986). The Grammatical Basis of Linguistic Performance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Find this resource:

Blanco-Elorrieta, E., & Pylkkänen, L. (2016). Bilingual language control in perception versus action: MEG reveals comprehension control mechanisms in anterior cingulate cortex and domain-general control of production in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 36(2), 290–301.Find this resource:

Carroll, S. (2001). Input and evidence: The raw material of second language acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Find this resource:

Clahsen, H., & Felser, C. (2006b). Grammatical processing in language learning. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 3–42.Find this resource:

Costa, A. (2005). Lexical access in bilingual production. In J. F. Kroll & A. M. De Groot (Eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches (pp. 308–325). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Dijkstra, T., Grainger, J., & Van Heuven, W. J. B (1999). Recognition of cognates and interlingual homographs: The neglected role of phonology. Journal of Memory and Language, 41, 496–518.Find this resource:

Dresher, E. (1999). Charting the learning path: Cues to parameter setting. Linguistic Inquiry, 30(1), 27–67.Find this resource:

Dupoux, E., Pallier, C., Sebastian, N., & Mehler, J. (1997). A destressing “deafness” in French? Journal of Memory Language, 36, 406–421.Find this resource:

Fernandez, E. M. (2006). How do language learners build syntactic structure on-line? Applied Psycholinguistics, 27(1), 59–64.Find this resource:

Frenck-Mestre, C. (2005). Eye-movement recording as a tool for studying syntactic processing in a second language: A review of methodologies and experimental findings. Second Language Research, 21, 175–198.Find this resource:

Gregg, K. (2003). The state of emergentism in second language acquisition. Second Language Research, 19(2), 95–128.Find this resource:

Hayes, B., & Wilson, C. (2008). A maximum entropy model of phonotactics and phonotactic learning. Linguistic Inquiry, 39(3), 379–440.Find this resource:

Juffs, A., & Rodriguez, G. (2015). Second language sentence processing. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Lewis, S. & Phillips, C. (2015). Aligning grammatical theories and language processing models. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 44(1), 27–46.Find this resource:

O’Grady, W. (2005). Syntactic carpentry. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Pylyshyn, Z. (1984). Computation and cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Find this resource:

Rast, R. (2008). Foreign language input: Initial processing. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Find this resource:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Philosophy of Linguistics.

Tremblay, A. (2008). Is L2 lexical access prosodically constrained? On the processing of word stress by French Canadian L2 learners of English. Applied Psycholinguistics, 29, 553–584.Find this resource:

VanPatten, W. (2013). Mental representation and skill in instructed SLA. In. J. Schwieter (Ed.), Innovative research and practices in second language acquisition and bilingualism (pp. 3–22). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Find this resource:

VanPatten, W. (Ed.) (2004). Processing instruction: Theory, research and commentary. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Find this resource:

Wen, Z., Borges Mota, M., & McNeill, A., (Eds.). (2015). Working memory in second language acquisition and processing. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.Find this resource:

White, L. (2009). Grammatical theory, interfaces, and L2 knowledge. In W. Ritchie & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), The new handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 49–70). Bingley: Emerald.Find this resource:

References

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Amaral, L., & Roeper, T. (2014). Multiple grammars and second language representation. Second Language Research, 30(1), 3–36.Find this resource:

Archibald, J., & Libben, G. (in press). Second language morphology: Representations, interfaces, and processing. In F. Masini & J. Audring (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of morphological theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

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