Skip to main content Accessibility help


  • Gregory D. Keating (a1) and Jill Jegerski (a2)

Since the publication of Clahsen and Felser’s (2006) keynote article on grammatical processing in language learners, the online study of sentence comprehension in adult second language (L2) learners has quickly grown into a vibrant and prolific subfield of SLA. As online methods begin to establish a foothold in SLA research, it is important that researchers in our field design sentence-comprehension experiments that adhere to the fundamental principles of research design typical of sentence processing studies published in related subfields of the language sciences. In this article, we discuss and review widely accepted principles of research design for sentence processing studies that are not always followed in L2 sentence processing research. Particular emphasis is placed on the design of experimental items and distractors, the choice and design of the poststimulus distractor task, procedures for presenting stimuli to participants, and methods for trimming and analyzing online data, among others.

Corresponding author
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Gregory D. Keating, Department of Linguistics and Asian/Middle Eastern Languages, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA 92182-7722. E-mail:
Hide All
Brysbaert, M., & New, B. (2009). Moving beyond Kučera and Francis: A critical evaluation of current word frequency norms and the introduction of a new and improved word frequency measure for American English. Behavior Research Methods, 41, 977990.
Chen, E., Gibson, E., & Wolf, F. (2005). Online syntactic storage costs in sentence comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language, 52, 144169.
Clahsen, H., & Felser, C. (2006). Grammatical processing in language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 342.
Clark, H. K. (1973). The language-as-fixed-effect fallacy: A critique of language statistics in psychological research. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 12, 335359.
Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Cunnings, I. (2012). An overview of mixed-effects statistical models for second language researchers. Second Language Research, 28, 369382.
Cunnings, I., & Felser, C. (2013). The role of working memory in the processing of reflexives. Language and Cognitive Processes, 28, 188219.
Cunnings, I., Patterson, C., & Felser, C. (2014). Variable binding and coreference in sentence comprehension: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Memory and Language, 71, 3956.
Dussias, P. E., & Piñar, P. (2010). Effects of reading span and plausibility in the reanalysis of wh-gaps by Chinese-English second language speakers. Second Language Research, 26, 443472.
Ferreira, F., & Clifton, C. (1986). The independence of syntactic processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 25, 348368.
Foote, R. (2011). Integrated knowledge of agreement in early and late English-Spanish bilinguals. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32, 187220.
Frenck-Mestre, C., & Pynte, J. (1997). Syntactic ambiguity resolution while reading in second and native languages. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 50A, 119148.
Gass, S. (1989). How do learners resolve linguistic conflicts? In Gass, S. & Schacter, J. (Eds.), Linguistic perspectives on second language acquisition (pp. 183199). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Gibson, E., Desmet, T., Grodner, D., Watson, D., & Ko, K. (2005). Reading relative clauses in English. Cognitive Linguistics, 16, 313353.
Gibson, E., & Wu, H. H. I. (2013). Processing Chinese relative clauses in context. Language and Cognitive Processes, 28, 125155.
Grosjean, F. (2008). Studying bilinguals. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Havik, E., Roberts, L., van Hout, R., Schreuder, R., & Haverkort, M. (2009). Processing subject-object ambiguities in the L2: A self-paced reading study with German L2 learners of Dutch. Language Learning, 59, 73112.
Hopp, H. (2013). Individual differences in the second language processing of object-subject ambiguities. Applied Psycholinguistics. Advance online publication. doi:10.1017/S0142716413000180
Hsiao, F., & Gibson, E. (2003). Processing relative clauses in Chinese. Cognition, 90, 327.
Jackson, C. E., & Bobb, S. C. (2009). The processing and comprehension of wh-questions among second language speakers of German. Applied Psycholinguistics, 30, 603636.
Jackson, C. E., & Dussias, P. E. (2009). Cross-linguistic differences and their impact on L2 sentence processing. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12, 6582.
Jegerski, J. (2012, March). The processing of case markers in near-native Mexican Spanish. Poster presented at the 25th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, New York, NY.
Jegerski, J., & VanPatten, B. (Eds.). (2014). Research methods in second language psycholinguistics. New York, NY: Routledge.
Juffs, A. (2004). Representation, processing, and working memory in a second language. Transactions of the Philological Society, 102, 199225.
Juffs, A., & Harrington, M. (1995). Parsing effects in second language sentence processing: Subject and object asymmetries in wh-extraction. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 17, 483516.
Juffs, A., & Harrington, M. (1996). Garden path sentences and error data in second language sentence processing. Language Learning, 46, 283323.
Just, M. A., & Carpenter, P. A. (1980). A theory of reading: From eye fixations to comprehension. Psychological Review, 87, 329354.
Keating, G. D. (2014). Eye-tracking with text. In Jegerski, J. & VanPatten, B. (Eds.), Research methods in second language psycholinguistics (pp. 6992). New York, NY: Routledge.
Leeser, M., Brandl, A., & Weissglass, C. (2011). Task effects in second language sentence processing research. In Trofimovich, P. & McDonough, K. (Eds.), Applying priming methods to L2 learning, teaching, and research: Insights from psycholinguistics (pp. 179198). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Benjamins.
LoCoco, V. (1987). Learner comprehension of oral and written sentences in German and Spanish: The importance of word order. In VanPatten, B., Dvorak, T. R., & Lee, J. F. (Eds.), Foreign language learning: A research perspective (pp. 119129). New York, NY: Newbury House.
Morgan-Short, K., & Tanner, D. (2014). Event-related potentials (ERPs). In Jegerski, J. & VanPatten, B. (Eds.), Research methods in second language psycholinguistics (pp. 127152). New York, NY: Routledge.
Musumeci, D. (1989). The ability of second language learners to assign tense at the sentence level: A crosslinguistic study (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Osterhout, L., Allen, M. D., McLaughlin, J., & Inoue, K. (2002). Brain potentials elicited by prose-embedded linguistic anomalies. Memory and Cognition, 30, 13041312.
Rah, A., & Adone, D. (2010). Processing of the reduced relative clause versus main verb ambiguity in L2 learners at different proficiency levels. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32, 79109.
Ratcliff, R. (1993). Methods for dealing with reaction time outliers. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 510532.
Rayner, K., & Duffy, S. A. (1986). Lexical complexity and fixation times in reading: Effects of word frequency, verb complexity, and lexical ambiguity. Memory and Cognition, 14, 191201.
R Core Team. (2013). R: A language and environment for statistical computing [Computer software]. Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Retrieved from
Roberts, L., & Felser, C. (2011). Plausibility and recovery from garden paths in second language sentence processing. Applied Psycholinguistics, 32, 299331.
Roberts, L., Gullberg, M., & Indefrey, P. (2008). Online pronoun resolution in L2 discourse: L1 influence and general learner effects. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 30, 333357.
Siyanova-Chanturia, A., Conklin, K., & Schmitt, N. (2011). Adding more fuel to the fire: An eye-tracking study of idiom processing by native and non-native speakers. Second Language Research, 27, 251272.
Tanner, D., Osterhout, L., & Herschensohn, J. (2009). Snapshots of grammaticalization: Differential electrophysiological responses to grammatical anomalies with increasing L2 exposure. In Chandlee, J., Franchini, M., Lord, S., & Rheiner, G.-M. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Boston University Conference on Language Development (pp. 528539). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Tokowicz, N., & MacWhinney, B. (2005). Implicit and explicit measures of sensitivity to violations in second language acquisition in second language grammar: An event-related potential investigation. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 173204.
Trueswell, J. C., Tanenhaus, M. K., & Garnsey, S. M. (1994). Semantic influences on parsing: Use of thematic role information in syntactic disambiguation. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 285318.
VanPatten, B. (1984). Learner comprehension of clitic pronouns in Spanish: More evidence for a word order strategy. Hispanic Linguistics, 1, 5767.
Wagers, M. W., Lau, E. F., & Phillips, C. (2009). Agreement attraction in comprehension: Representations and processes. Journal of Memory and Language, 61, 206237.
Williams, J. N. (2006). Incremental interpretation in second language sentence processing. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 7188.
Wilson, M. P., & Garnsey, S. M. (2009). Making simple sentences hard: Verb bias effects in simple direct object sentences. Journal of Memory and Language, 60, 368392.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Studies in Second Language Acquisition
  • ISSN: 0272-2631
  • EISSN: 1470-1545
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-second-language-acquisition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed