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Lexical and syntactic representations in closely related languages: Evidence from Cantonese–Mandarin bilinguals

Bilinguals appear to have shared syntactic representations for similar constructions between languages but retain distinct representations for noncognate translation-equivalents (Schoonbaert, Hartsuiker, & Pickering, 2007). We inquire whether bilinguals have more integrated representations of cognate translation-equivalents. To investigate this, we report two structural priming experiments in which participants heard dative sentences in Mandarin or Cantonese and described pictures using Mandarin (Experiment 1) or Cantonese (Experiment 2). We found that cognate verbs between the prime and the target led to a smaller boost than same verbs. This difference in priming could not be attributed to more phonological overlap between same verbs (i.e., identical) than between cognate verbs (i.e., similar but not identical). These results suggest that cognate verbs have separate rather than shared lemma representations across languages, even though their associated syntactic information appears to be collectively represented. Furthermore, we found an advantage for within-language priming over between-language priming. We interpreted this advantage as the result of a language node passing activation to all the lemmas linked to it. Implications for bilingual lexical and syntactic representation and processing are discussed.

from the Journal of Memory and Language


Structural Priming and Second Language Learning

Structural priming (or syntactic priming) is a speaker’s tendency to reuse the same structural pattern as one that was previously encountered (Bock, 1986). This study investigated (a) whether the implicit learning processes involved in long-lag structural priming lead to differential second language (L2) improvement in producing two structural types (complex, double-object dative and simple, separated phrasal-verb structures) compared to more explicit memory processes involved in no-lag structural priming and (b) whether additional explicit instruction leads to increased production of target structures than either implicit learning or explicit memory processes alone. Learners showed an overall increase in target structure production in a picture description task and marginal improvement in grammaticality judgment tests after the structural priming session. Results revealed that explicit instruction combined with structural priming speeded short-term improvement more than implicit instruction involving implicit learning alone in the form of long-lag structural priming. However, only implicit learning via long-lag structural priming resulted in increased production of the complex structure during a second testing session 1 day later. This study is the first to directly compare explicit instruction to implicit instruction in a structural priming paradigm, taking into account both the complexity of structures and the long-term effects of instruction on L2 production.

from Language Learning

Thematic emphasis in language production

In three experiments, we investigate whether speakers tend to perseverate in the assignment of emphasis to concepts with particular thematic roles across utterances. Participants matched prime sentences involving clefts (e.g., Het is de cowboy die hij slaat, “It is the cowboy that he is hitting”) to pictures and then described unrelated transitive events. Participants were more likely to produce a passive after a cleft that emphasised the patient than after a cleft that emphasised the agent. Because prime and target sentences are syntactically unrelated, our study demonstrated nonsyntactic structural priming. We propose that speakers use such priming to facilitate the construction of coherent discourse.

from Language and Cognitive Processes

What goes wrong during passive sentence production in agrammatic aphasia: An eyetracking study

The deficit in passive sentence production does not solely arise from a morphological deficit, rather it stems, at least in part, from a structural level impairment. The underlying nature of passives with RRs is qualitatively different from that of actives-for-passives, which cannot be clearly differentiated with off-line testing methodology

from Aphasiology