Concurrent Memory Load, Working Memory Span, and Morphological Processing in L1 and L2 English

by Vedran Dronjic

Institution: University of Toronto
Year: 2014
Keywords: Psycholinguistics; Memory; Second Language Acquisition; Morphological Processing; Morphology; Transfer; Automaticity; Self-Paced Reading
Record ID: 2041841
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1807/43536


This study utilized the moving-window self-paced reading paradigm to investigate the processing of English morphemes by native speakers of English, Chinese, and Korean. The morphemes belonged to three distinct theoretical types: Stratum 1 derivation ({-ALADJ}, {-ITY}, and {-OUSADJ}), Stratum 2 derivation ({-NESS}, {-FULADJ}, and {-ERAGENT}), and inflection ({-SPL}, {-EDPAST}, and {-S3RDSGPRES}). Participants were presented with either (1) fully grammatical sentences which contained words featuring these morphemes or (2) ungrammatical sentences in which one word form lacked one of the morphemes when it was obligatory (e.g., Canada is one of the most *prosper and developed countries in the world). Half the sentences were presented with a concurrent working memory load, which consisted of remembering the result of a simple calculation (e.g., subtracting 3 from 95) while processing a sentence and reporting the number immediately thereafter. Reading times for the target word and the three words immediately following it were used as the main dependent variable. The background measures included a C-Test of English proficiency, a reading span task, a digits-forward task, a digits-backward task, and a detailed background questionnaire. In agreement with previous research, it was found that morphological violations tended to cause slowdowns in processing. Conversely, the presence of a concurrent memory load tended to cause speedups. Native speakers differed from non-native speakers by: (1) showing an early sensitivity to violations of Stratum 2 derivational morphology; (2) exhibiting a delayed response to violations of Stratum 1 derivation; and (3) not slowing down after violations of inflectional morphology. In addition, native speakers were the only group exhibiting no relationship between morphological processing on one side and short term-memory, working memory, and C-Test scores on the other. Overall, the similarity between native and non-native speakers was the greatest in the processing of Stratum 1 derivation. Crucially, the temporal pattern of the Korean participants’ responses to morphological violations in English placed them in an intermediate position between the English and Chinese native speakers, which was interpreted as evidence of L1 – L2 transfer in morphological processing. Notably, this transfer occurred between an agglutinative L1 and an unrelated mixed-type L2.