Priming of relative clause attachment during comprehension in French as a first and second language
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This dissertation explores language comprehension in native speakers (NSs) and second language (L2) speakers of French. Recent findings suggest that whereas NSs process complex sentences using both syntax and semantics, late learners of a L2 process shallowly, relying on lexical, semantic, and pragmatic cues to interpretation. Studies supporting this Shallow Structure Hypothesis (Clahsen & Felser, 2006b) rely on limited methodologies, however, and are challenged by reports demonstrating proficiency and cognitive effects on processing. In addition, recent research suggests that native language comprehension is not always complete or accurate (Ferreira & Patson, 2007) and is subject to variability (Dabrowska, 2012). This dissertation brings new evidence to bear on NS-L2 differences through the structural priming paradigm and investigates several factors thought to contribute to NS-L2 differences, including the exploratory effect of relative language dominance. Evidence from a self-paced reading task examining off-line and on-line priming of relative clause attachment height suggests that prior exposure to structural information through comprehension influences NSs' subsequent comprehension at the post-interpretive stage. Results argue for priming at the level of abstract hierarchical syntax and an implicit learning account of persistence. This study is one of few to demonstrate priming of ambiguously attached modifiers during comprehension and the first to do so within a L2. Unlike for NSs, the nature of the L2 priming effect is linked to discourse information. Age of acquisition was found to be a more important factor in L2 priming than language dominance. The results also argue that both native and L2 speakers are susceptible to shallow processing, though they use slightly different strategies. While NSs in the current study were more willing to accommodate competing syntactic and semantic analyses, ultimately accepting a less-than-complete analysis, the L2 parsing mechanism preferred to settle on one interpretation. The evidence here lends partial support to the hypothesis that L2 processing relies more on semantic/pragmatic information than NS processing but crucially does not exclude the possibility of L2 syntactic processing and highlights NS-L2 similarities in terms of the contexts that trigger shallow processing.