Constraints on L2 learners’ processing of wh-dependencies

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Using the eye-movement monitoring technique, the present study examined whether <i>wh</i>-dependency formation is sensitive to island constraints in second language (L2) sentence comprehension, and whether the presence of an intervening relative clause island has any effects on learners&#8217; ability to ultimately resolve long <i>wh</i>-dependencies. Participants included proficient learners of L2 English from typologically different language backgrounds (German, Chinese), as well as a group of native English-speaking controls. Our results indicate that both the learners and the native speakers were sensitive to relative clause islands during processing, irrespective of typological differences between the learners&#8217; L1s, but that the learners had more difficulty than native speakers linking distant <i>wh</i>-fillers to their lexical subcategorizers during processing. We provide a unified processing-based account for our findings.


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