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L2 processing as noisy channel language comprehension


The thesis in this paper is that L2 speakers differ from L1 speakers in their ability to do memory storage and retrieval about linguistic structure. We would like to suggest it is possible to go farther than this thesis and develop a computational-level theory which explains why this mechanistic difference between L2 and L1 speakers exists. For this purpose, we believe a noisy channel model (Shannon, 1948; Levy, 2008; Levy, Bicknell, Slattery & Rayner, 2009; Gibson, Bergen & Piantadosi, 2013) could be a good start. Under the reasonable assumption that L2 speakers have a less precise probabilistic representation of the syntax of their L2 language than L1 speakers do, the noisy channel model straightforwardly predicts that L2 comprehenders will depend more on world knowledge and discourse factors when interpreting and recalling utterances (cf. Gibson, Sandberg, Fedorenko, Bergen & Kiran, 2015, for this assumption applied to language processing for persons with aphasia). Also, under the assumption that L2 speakers assume a higher error rate than L1 speakers do, the noisy channel model predicts that they will be more affected by alternative parses which are not directly compatible with the form of an utterance.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Richard Futrell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, 43 Vassar Street, Room 46-3037, Cambridge Massachusetts, United States 02139
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K. Christianson , A. Hollingworth , J. Halliwell & F. Ferreira (2001). Thematic roles assigned along the garden path linger. Cognitive Psychology, 42, 368407.

E. Gibson , L. Bergen , & S. T. Piantadosi (2013). Rational integration of noisy evidence and prior semantic expectations in sentence interpretation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (20), 80518056.

G. Jacob & C. Felser (2016). Reanalysis and semantic persistence in native and nonnative garden-path recovery. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 69 (5), 907925.

R. Levy , K. Bicknell , T. Slattery , & K. Rayner (2009). Eye movement evidence that readers maintain and act on uncertainty about past linguistic input. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (50), 2108621090.

C. Shannon (1948). A mathematical theory of communication. Bell Systems Technical Journal, 27, 623656.

C. Shannon (1948). A mathematical theory of communication. Bell Systems Technical Journal, 27, 623656.

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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
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