An investigation into near-nativeness at the syntax-lexicon interface: evidence from Dutch learners of English
This thesis investigates whether there are differences in language comprehension and language production between highly advanced/near-native adult learners of a second language (late L2ers) and native speakers (L1ers), and if so, how they should be characterised. In previous literature (Sorace & Filiaci 2006, Sorace 2011 inter alia), nonconvergence of the near-native grammar with the native grammar has been identified as most likely to occur at the interface between syntax and another cognitive domain. This thesis focuses on grammatical and ungrammatical representations at the syntax-lexicon interface between very advanced/near-native Dutch learners of English and native speakers of English. We tested differences in syntactic knowledge representations and real-time processing through eight experiments. By syntactic knowledge representations we mean the explicit knowledge of grammar (specifically word order dependence on lexical-semantics) that a language user exhibits in their language comprehension and production, and by realtime processing we mean the language user’s ability to access implicit and explicit knowledge of grammar under time and/or memory constraints in their language comprehension and production. To test for systematic differences at the syntax-lexicon interface we examined linguistic structures in English that differ minimally in word order from Dutch depending on the presence or absence of certain lexical items and their characteristics; these were possessive structures with animate and inanimate possessors and possessums in either a prenominal or postnominal construction, preposed adverbials of location (locative inversions) followed by either unergative or unaccusative verbs, and preposed adverbials of manner containing a negative polarity item (negative inversions) or positive polarity item followed by either V2 or V3 word order. We used Magnitude Estimation Tasks and Speeded Grammaticality Judgement Tasks to test comprehension, and Syntactic Priming (with/without extra memory load) and Speeded Sentence Completion Tasks to test production. We found evidence for differences in comprehension and production between very advanced, near-native Dutch L2ers and native speakers of English, and that these differences appear to be associated with processing rather than with competence. Dutch L2ers differed from English L1ers with respect to preferences in word order of possessive structures and after preposed adverbials of manner. However, these groups did not differ in production and comprehension with respect to transitivity in locative inversions. We conclude that even among highly advanced to near-native late learners of a second language there may be non-convergence of the L2 grammar. Such non-convergence need not coincide with the L1 grammar but may rather be a result of over-applying linguistic L2 knowledge. Thus, very advanced to near-native L2ers still have access to limited (meta)linguistic resources that under time and memory constraints may result in ungrammatical language comprehension and/or production at the syntax-lexicon interface. In sum, in explaining interface phenomena, the results of this study provide evidence for a processing account over a representational account, i.e. Dutch L2ers showed they possess grammatical knowledge of the specific L2 linguistic structures in comprehension and production, but over-applied this knowledge in exceptional cases under time and/or memory pressure. We suggest that current bilingual production models focus more on working memory by including a separate memory component to such models and conducting empirical research to test its influence on L2 production and comprehension.