Processing wh-dependencies in a second language: A cross-modal priming study

Felser, C., & Roberts, L. (2007). Processing wh-dependencies in a second language: A cross-modal priming study. Second Language Research, 23(1), 9-36. doi:10.1177/0267658307071600.
This study investigates the real-time processing of wh-dependencies by advanced Greek-speaking learners of English using a cross-modal picture priming task. Participants were asked to respond to different types of picture target presented either at structurally defined gap positions, or at pre-gap control positions, while listening to sentences containing indirect-object relative clauses. Our results indicate that the learners processed the experimental sentences differently from both adult native speakers of English and monolingual English-speaking children. Contrary to what has been found for native speakers, the learners' response pattern was not influenced by individual working memory differences. Adult second language learners differed from native speakers with a relatively high reading or listening span in that they did not show any evidence of structurally based antecedent reactivation at the point of the indirect object gap. They also differed from low-span native speakers, however, in that they showed evidence of maintained antecedent activation during the processing of the experimental sentences. Whereas the localized priming effect observed in the high-span controls is indicative of trace-based antecedent reactivation in native sentence processing, the results from the Greek-speaking learners support the hypothesis that the mental representations built during non-native language processing lack abstract linguistic structure such as movement traces.
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