Parsing Ability and Reading Comprehension in a Second Language: Are the Two Related?

Day, Dennis
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Many studies of reading comprehension have dealt with how a text's syntax and semantics interfere with or assist the reader in getting meaning. These effects have typically been observed in the product of the reading process, reading comprehension. However, there has been little research into how these phenomena pose problems within the reading process itself. An investigation of parsing as a sub-process of reading which utilizes reader's syntactic and semantic competence may help us better understand how this competence affects the reading process as a whole. Parsing refers to the process of segmenting sentences into units of meaning. By doing so, readers process incoming data economically as memory and processing constraints limit the amount of data which can be dealt with at one time. This paper discusses the research on parsing and its possible relation to reading comprehension. It also reports a study investigating parsing ability in native and nonnative speakers and the relationship between parsing ability and reading comprehension in a second language (L2). There have been no studies dealing directly with the relationship between the ability to parse and reading comprehension in a foreign or second language. However, the strong influence language proficiency seems to exert on L2 reading suggests that the ability to parse could be a decisive factor in reaching the threshold level of linguistic competence thought by Cummins (1979) to be necessary for fluent reading (Goodman, 1970; Clarke, 1980).
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