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Parsing and Working Memory in Bilingual Sentence Processing


A growing body of research has investigated bilingual sentence processing. How to account for differences in native (L1) and non-native (L2) processing is controversial. Some explain L1/L2 differences in terms of different parsing mechanisms, and the hypothesis that L2 learners adopt ‘shallow’ parsing has received considerable attention. Others assume L1/L2 processing is similar, and explain L1/L2 differences in terms of capacity-based limitations being exceeded during L2 processing. More generally, the role that working memory plays in language acquisition and processing has garnered increasing interest. Based on research investigating L2 sentence processing, I claim that a primary source of L1/L2 differences lies in the ability to retrieve information constructed during sentence processing from memory. In contrast to describing L1/L2 differences in terms of shallow parsing or capacity limitations, I argue that L2 speakers are more susceptible to retrieval interference when successful comprehension requires access to information from memory.

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Address for correspondence: Dr Ian Cunnings, School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK, RG6 7BE
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