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Sentence interpretation in bilingual speakers of English and Dutch1

  • Janet L. Mcdonald (a1)


Speakers of English and Dutch vary in how strongly they use various syntactic (e.g., word order, prepositions, case inflection) and semantic (e.g., noun animacy) cues to interpret native language sentences. For example, in simple NVN sentences, English speakers rely heavily on word order, while Dutch speakers rely on case inflection. This paper compares the cue usage of English/Dutch and Dutch/English bilinguals with varying amounts of second language exposure to that of native speaker control groups. For all constructions tested, dative constructions, simple NVN sentences, and relative clauses, it was found that with increasing exposure, cue usage in the second language gradually shifts from that appropriate to the first language to that appropriate to the second. A model of cue learning originally proposed to account for monolingual data is found to be compatible with the learning pattern exhibited by bilinguals.


Corresponding author

Janet L. McDonald, Department of Psychology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, U.S.A.


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This paper is based on doctoral dissertation submitted to the Carnegie-Mellon University Psychology Department. Thanks go to Pat Carpenter, the late Bill Chase, Marcel Just, Brian Mac Whinney, and to the Vakgroep Psychologische Funktieleer at the Universiteit te Leiden, the Netherlands. This work was partially supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant BNS-8211705.



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Sentence interpretation in bilingual speakers of English and Dutch1

  • Janet L. Mcdonald (a1)


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