Cross-linguistic lexical and syntactic co-activation in L2 sentence processing
This study investigates under which conditions the L1 syntax is activated in L2 on-line sentence comprehension. We study whether cross-linguistic syntactic activation of the L1 word order is affected by lexical activation of the first language (L1) by virtue of cognate words. In two eye-tracking experiments, German-English bilinguals and English natives read English sentences containing reduced relative clauses whose surface word order partially overlaps with German embedded clauses. The verbs used were either German-English cognates or matched control verbs. The results show lexical cognate facilitation and syntactic co-activation of L1 word order, with the latter being moderated by proficiency and cognate status. Critically, syntactic co-activation is found only with English control words. We argue that fleeting co-activation of the L1 syntax becomes measurable under higher demands of lexical processing, while cognate facilitation frees resources for inhibition of the L1 syntax and target-like syntactic processing.
Keywords: L2 sentence processing, transfer, cross-linguistic influence, cognate facilitation, L1 syntax, eye tracking
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