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Language distance and non-native syntactic processing: Evidence from event-related potentials*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 November 2010

ADAM ZAWISZEWSKI*
Affiliation:
Department of Linguistics and Basque Studies, University of the Basque Country
EVA GUTIÉRREZ
Affiliation:
Center for Mind and Brain, University of California Davis
BEATRIZ FERNÁNDEZ
Affiliation:
Department of Linguistics and Basque Studies, University of the Basque Country
ITZIAR LAKA
Affiliation:
Department of Linguistics and Basque Studies, University of the Basque Country
*
Address for correspondence: Adam Zawiszewski, University of the Basque Country, Elebilab-Psycholinguistics Laboratory, Calle Tomas y Valiente, s/n 01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spainadam.zawis@gmail.com

Abstract

In this study, we explore native and non-native syntactic processing, paying special attention to the language distance factor. To this end, we compared how native speakers of Basque and highly proficient non-native speakers of Basque who are native speakers of Spanish process certain core aspects of Basque syntax. Our results suggest that differences in native versus non-native language processing strongly correlate with language distance: native/non-native processing differences obtain if a syntactic parameter of the non-native grammar diverges from the native grammar. Otherwise, non-native processing will approximate native processing as levels of proficiency increase. We focus on three syntactic parameters: (i) the head parameter, (ii) argument alignment (ergative/accusative), and (iii) verb agreement. The first two diverge in Basque and Spanish, but the third is the same in both languages. Our results reveal that native and non-native processing differs for the diverging syntactic parameters, but not for the convergent one. These findings indicate that language distance has a significant impact in non-native language processing.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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Footnotes

*

This research was partially supported by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (BRAINGLOT CSD2007-00012/CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010, FFI2009-09695/FILO, FFI2008-00240/FILO, FFI2010-20472/FILO), Basque Government (IT414-10), University of the Basque Country (GIU09/44) and the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-07-CORP-033). We are also grateful to Kepa Erdozia and Begoña Díaz for their valuable help during data acquisition.

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