Chinese Sentence Processing by First and Second Language Speakers

Wen, Zhijun
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2015]
This dissertation research investigates real-time second language (L2) sentence processing, with a focus on L2 Mandarin Chinese. It seeks to reveal how adult L2 learners (“L2ers”) exploit different sources of information (morphosyntactic, lexical-semantic, and discourse-context) and hence illuminates the issue of whether L2ers are capable of fully specified processing. The research employs two different processing tasks: comprehension-focused self-paced reading (CFSPR) and acceptability-judgment self-paced reading (AJSPR); there are four main studies: one in English comparing native English speakers with L1-Chinese L2ers of English, and three in Chinese comparing native Chinese speakers with learners of Chinese whose native language (L1) is English (or Japanese). The first study assesses whether AJSPR is more sensitive than CFSPR in detecting deep-level processing by examining L1 and L2 processing of English subject-verb number agreement in an AJSPR task in comparison to Wen’s (2007) study employing a CFSPR task. The second study compares L1 and L2 processing of (grammatical vs. ungrammatical) negation–aspect interactions in Chinese to test whether L2ers whose L1 lacks such morphosyntax can ultimately acquire it and use it in online sentence processing. The third study investigates use of lexical-semantic information in Chinese to test whether L2ers, in comparison to Chinese natives, over-depend on lexical-semantic information in sentence processing; this is achieved by comparing L1 and L2 participants’ sensitivity to temporary violations of the selectional restrictions of Chinese transitive verbs. The fourth study examines whether L2ers rely more on discourse-context information in processing Chinese sentences that contain null objects than Chinese natives do. The results of these studies reveal that (a) L2ers are able to access and use the different sources of information (morphosyntactic, lexical-semantic, discourse-context) in online sentence processing as L2 proficiency rises; (b) they do not always over-rely on lexical-semantic or contextual information in L2 sentence processing; (c) they are capable of fully specified processing. The research suggests that L2 processing difficulties are not necessarily indicative of deficient grammatical representations; rather, L2 sentence processing is subject to the influences of task demands, L2 proficiency, and L1 transfer. In addition, the research establishes AJSPR as an appropriate tool for gauging deep-level L2 processing.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
acquisition, language processing, Mandarin, L2 learners, second language
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