Processing at the syntax-discourse interface in second language acquisition
Chalton, Fiona Frances Logie Wilson
The Interface Hypothesis (Sorace and Filiaci, 2006) conjectures that adult second language learners (L2 learners) who have reached near-native levels of proficiency in their second language exhibit difficulties at the interface between syntax and other cognitive domains, most notably at the syntax-discourse interface. However, research in this area was limited, in that the data were offline, and thus unable to provide evidence for the nature of the deficit shown by L2 learners. This thesis presents online data which address the question of the underlying nature of the difficulties observed in L2 learners at the syntaxdiscourse interface. This thesis has extended work on the syntax-discourse interface in L2 learners by investigating the acquisition of two phenomena at the syntax-discourse interface in German: the role of word order and pronominalization with respect to information structure (Experiments 1-3), and the antecedent preferences of anaphoric demonstrative (the der, die, das series homophonous with the definite article) and personal pronouns (the er, sie, es series) (Experiments 4- 8). Crucially, this work has used an on-line methodology, the visual-world paradigm, which allows an insight into the incremental interpretation of interface phenomena in real-time processing. The data from these experiments show that L2 learners have difficulty integrating different sources of information in real-time comprehension efficiently, supporting the Interface Hypothesis. However, the nature of the processing difficulties which L2 learners demonstrate in on-line processing was not determined by these studies, resulting in the question: are L2 learners’ difficulties a result of a limitation of processing resources, or the inability to deploy those resources effectively? A novel dualtask experiment (Experiment 9), in which native speakers of German were placed under processing load simulated the results previously obtained for L2 learners. It is concluded that syntactic dependencies were constrained by resource limitation, whereas discourse based dependencies were constrained by processing resource allocation.