Syntactic processing in English–Afrikaans bilinguals

Abstract

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.ENGLISH ABSTRACT: A fundamental question in the study of human language is why, compared to the acquisition of a first language (L1), second language (L2) acquisition should have such widely varying outcomes. Relatedly, there is a question regarding the upper limits on L2 acquisition, namely whether it is possible for learners who have not acquired a language from birth to perform identically to native speakers of that language. Experimental psycholinguistic techniques offer insight into the moment-by-moment processes involved in language comprehension and production, and in recent years have increasingly been employed to investigate L2 and bilingual processing, both in their own right and in relation to L1 processing. In this dissertation, such techniques are employed to investigate L2 English syntactic processing among early L2 acquirers (L1 Afrikaans) who receive extensive naturalistic exposure to the L2 and have attained high proficiency therein. Second language populations with this combination of features, each of which has been shown to affect processing outcomes, are understudied in the literature, as are highly linguistically diverse settings such as South Africa. There is thus little information available regarding the consequences of this particular constellation of individual- and environmental-level characteristics on ultimate levels of L2 attainment. The studies presented in the dissertation focus on three syntactic phenomena that have been shown to be processed in a non-nativelike fashion by L2 speakers. These are temporarily ambiguous or so-called garden-path sentences, pronouns, and long-distance wh-dependencies. The techniques of self-paced reading and eye-tracking-while-reading were utilized to obtain real-time processing data. These data were supplemented by measures of L2 proficiency and language background. First-language speakers of South African English were employed as a comparison group. The findings show L1–L2 convergence for a subset of the L2 participants – those with a relatively earlier age of L2 acquisition – in the garden-path sentence processing experiment. In the pronoun resolution experiment, evidence of cross-linguistic influence at the verb level is observed, which subsequently affects processing at the sentence level. Finally, in the processing of long-distance wh-dependencies, the strategies employed by the L1 and L2 speakers differ, with awareness of an abstract syntactic cue being evident in the L1 but not the L2 speakers. The results provide insight into the implications of the South African language acquisition and use contexts for L2 development. A more general consideration of these implications as they relate to other multilingual settings contributes to our knowledge of L2 attainment in linguistically heterogeneous environments.AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: 'n Fundamentele vraag in die bestudering van menslike taal is waarom die verwerwing van 'n tweede taal (T2), in vergeleke met die verwerwing van 'n eerste taal (T1), sulke wyd uiteenlopende uitkomste het. Daar is ook 'n verwante vraag rakende die boonste perke van T2-verwerwing, naamlik of dit moontlik is vir leerders om identies met moedertaalsprekers te presteer as hulle nie die taal vanaf geboorte verwerf het nie. Eksperimentele psigolinguistiese tegnieke bied insig in die oomblik-tot-oomblik prosesse wat by taalbegrip en -produksie betrokke is, en sulke tegnieke word toenemend gebruik om T2- en tweetalige verwerking, sowel in eie reg as in verband met T1-verwerking, te ondersoek. In hierdie proefskrif word sulke tegnieke gebruik om T2 Engelse sintaktiese verwerking onder vroeë T2-verwerwers (T1 Afrikaans) wat uitgebreide naturalistiese blootstelling aan die T2 het en wat 'n hoë vaardigheid in die T2 behaal het te ondersoek. In die bestaande literatuur is T2 populasies met hierdie kombinasie van eienskappe, wat individueel bewese invloed op verwerkingsuitkomste het, onderbestudeer. Verder is uiters linguisties-diverse omgewings soos Suid-Afrika ook onderbestudeer. Daar is dus min inligting rakende die gevolge van hierdie spesifieke konfigurasie van individuele- en omgewingseienskappe op uiteindelike vlakke van T2-bereiking. Die studies wat in die proefskrif voorgelê word, fokus op drie sintaktiese verskynsels wat gedemonstreer is om deur T2 sprekers op 'n nie-moedertaalagtige wyse verwerk te word. Hierdie verskynsels sluit in: tydelik-dubbelsinnige of sogenaamde “garden-path”-sinne, voornaamwoorde en langafstand wh-afhanklikhede. Die tegnieke van eie-tempo lees en oognaspeuring-tydens-lees is gebruik om reële-tyd verwerkingsdata te bekom. Hierdie data is aangevul deur maatstawwe van T2-vaardigheid en taalagtergrond. Eerstetaalsprekers van Suid-Afrikaanse Engels is as kontrole groep gebruik. In die eksperiment oor die verwerking van tydelik-dubbelsinnige sinne, is daar bevind dat van die T2-deelnemers – diegene met 'n betreklik vroeëre ouderdom van T2-aanleer – T1–T2 konvergensie vertoon. In die voornaamwoord-resolusie eksperiment is bewyse van kruis-linguistiese invloed op die werkwoordvlak, wat verdere verwerking op sinsvlak beïnvloed, waargeneem. Laastens verskil die strategieë wat deur die T1- en T2-sprekers aangewend word in die verwerking van langafstand wh-afhanklikhede, met T1-sprekers wat, anders as T2-sprekers, bewus is van 'n abstrakte sintaktiese leidraad. Die resultate bied insig in die implikasies van die Suid-Afrikaanse taalverwerwing- en gebruikskontekste vir T2-ontwikkeling. 'n Algemene oorweging van hierdie implikasies, soos hulle verband hou met ander meertalige instellings, dra by tot ons kennis van T2-bereiking in linguisties heterogene omgewings.Doctora

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