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Real-time grammar processing by native and non-native speakers: Constructions unique to the second language*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 July 2013

University of York
University of York
University of York
Address for correspondence: Danijela Trenkic, Department of Education, University of York, York YO10 5DD,


We investigated second language (L2) comprehension of grammatical structures that are unique to the L2, and which are known to cause persistent difficulties in production. A visual-world eye-tracking experiment focused on online comprehension of English articles by speakers of the article-lacking Mandarin, and a control group of English native speakers. The results show that non-native speakers from article-lacking backgrounds can incrementally utilise the information signalled by L2 articles in real time to constrain referential domains and resolve reference more efficiently. The findings support the hypothesis that L2 processing does not always over-rely on pragmatic affordances, and that some morphosyntactic structures unique to the target language can be processed in a targetlike manner in comprehension – despite persistent difficulties with their production. A novel proposal, based on multiple meaning-to-form, but consistent form-to-meaning mappings, is developed to account for such comprehension–production asymmetries.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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This research was supported by the University of York grant to the first author. We thank Craig Chambers for sharing the sentential stimuli from Chambers et al. (2002) with us. We are grateful to Jakke Tamminen, Lauren Davies, Xierong Liu, Chris Rowson and Gitte Joergensen for their assistance in stimulus preparation and participant testing. We also thank the three anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions. All remaining errors are our own.


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