Transfer of Constituent Weight-Related Rules in Highly Proficient English L2 Speakers

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Keywords: second language acquisition, second language processing, transfer, syntactic transfer, constituent weight, syntactic complexity, structural markedness. This thesis answers the question whether highly proficient second language (L2) speakers apply constituent weight-related rules in a native-like fashion. Native-like application is determined by whether transfer of mother language (L1) rules can be observed in surface level performance, but also if any effects of transfer can be observed in conscious and subconscious language processing. This is done by means of a timed self-paced reading task and acceptability judgement task regarding English sentences with objects manipulated for weight and position. The experiment was performed by native speakers of English and native speakers of Dutch that are also highly proficient L2 speakers of English. By comparing reading- and response times to stimuli as well as their acceptability ratings, it is determined that highly proficient L2 speakers undergo L1 transfer of constituent weight-related rules. The speaker corrects the transfer of the rule during processing, which results in no observable qualitative differences between native and highly proficient non-native speaker performance at a surface level. This is in contrast with a theory posited by Hopp (2010) that stated that transfer of syntactic rules only occurs on a conscious level in highly proficient L2 speakers. This information adds to the growing amount of research into syntactic transfer, and the presence of transfer in language reception rather than production. This benefits L2 teaching efforts by giving further insight to how multiple languages are accessed by our minds.
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