Implicit acquisition of tone-suffix connections in L2 learners of Swedish
Swedish native speakers (NSs) unconsciously use tones realized on word stems to predict upcoming suffixes during speech comprehension. The present response time study investigated whether relatively proficient second language (L2) learners of Swedish have acquired the underlying association between tones and suffixes without explicit instruction, internalizing a feature that is specific to their L2. Learners listened to sentences in which the tone on the verb stem either validly or invalidly cued the following present or past tense inflection. Invalidly cued suffixes led to increased decision latencies in a verb tense identification task, suggesting that learners pre-activated suffixes associated with stem tones in a manner similar to NSs. Thus, L2 learners seemed to have acquired the tone-suffix connections through implicit mechanisms. Correctly cued suffixes were associated with a smaller processing advantage in the L2 group relative to NSs performing the same task; nevertheless, results suggest a tendency for increasingly native-like tone processing with cumulative language experience. The way suffix type affected response times also indicates exposure-related effects.
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