Processing empty categories in a second language: When naturalistic exposure fills the (intermediate) gap
Pliatsikas, C. and Marinis, T. (2013) Processing empty categories in a second language: When naturalistic exposure fills the (intermediate) gap. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16 (1). pp. 167-182. ISSN 1469-1841
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1017/S136672891200017X
An ongoing debate on second language (L2) processing revolves around whether or not L2 learners process syntactic information similarly to monolinguals (L1), and what factors lead to a native-like processing. According to the Shallow Structure Hypothesis (Clahsen & Felser, 2006a), L2 learners’ processing does not include abstract syntactic features, such as intermediate gaps of wh-movement, but relies more on lexical/semantic information. Other researchers have suggested that naturalistic L2 exposure can lead to native-like processing (Dussias, 2003). This study investigates the effect of naturalistic exposure in processing wh-dependencies. Twenty-six advanced Greek learners of L2 English with an average nine years of naturalistic exposure, 30 with classroom exposure, and 30 native speakers of English completed a self-paced reading task with sentences involving intermediate gaps. L2 learners with naturalistic exposure showed evidence of native-like processing of the intermediate gaps, suggesting that linguistic immersion can lead to native-like abstract syntactic processing in the L2.