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The Processing of Ambiguous Sentences by First and Second Language Learners of English

By Claudia Felser, Leah Roberts, Rebecca Gross and Theodore Marinis


This study compares the way English-speaking children and adult second language leamers of English resolve relative clause attachment ambiguities in sentences such as The dean liked the secretary of the professor who was reading a letter. Two groups of advanced L2 leamers of English with Greek or German as their L 1 participated in a set of off-line and on-line tasks. While the participants' disambiguation preferences were influenced by lexical-semantic properties of the preposition linking the two potential antecedent NPs (of vs. with), there was no evidence that they were applying any structure-based ambiguity resolution strategies of the type that have been claimed to influence sentence processing in monolingual adults. These findings differ markedly from those obtained from 6 to 7 year- old monolingual English children in a parallel auditory study (Felser, Marinis, & Clahsen, submitted) in that the children's attachment preferences were not affected by the type of preposition at all. We argue that whereas children primarily rely on structure-based parsing principles during processing, adult L2 leamers are guided mainly by non-structural information

Year: 2007
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