Structural representations in late learners of a second language : effects of L2 proficiency and intervention methods
During second language (L2) learning, L2 learners may rely on their first language (L1) syntax to produce similar syntactic structures in the L2. However, the second language may have dissimilar L2 syntactic structures that are absent in the learner’s L1. Therefore, the L2 learner must establish new syntactic representations for these dissimilar L2 structures (Hartsuiker & Bernolet, 2017). I used structural priming to test the predictions of Hartsuiker and Bernolet’s developmental account of L2 syntactic acquisition, in which they propose that late L2 learners initially form item-specific L2 representations of new structures in the L2 that gradually evolve into abstract syntactic representations. These L2 syntactic representations eventually become shared with L1 syntactic representations, whenever the L1-L2 syntactic structures are syntactically similar. They also propose that the process of abstraction is influenced by L2 proficiency and the frequency of L2 syntactic structures. Lastly, the authors suggest that beginning L2 learners rely on lexical overlap between prime and target sentences for learning to occur. But how do late learners deal with learning dissimilar L2 syntactic structures that are absent in their L1? Moreover, what role does L2 proficiency play in the formation of abstract structural representations for dissimilar L2 structures? Dissimilar L2 syntactic structures may not be spontaneously produced if a similar L2-L1 syntactic structure is already available to the L2 learner. In such a case, can interventions like verb overlap between prime and target sentences, and increased structural repetition of dissimilar L2 syntactic structures promote the production of these dissimilar L2 syntactic structures? My findings indicate that (i) late L2 learners do indeed start with item-specific representations for new sentence structures in the L2, with earlier abstraction for simpler structures than for complex ones, (ii) L2 proficiency affects the abstraction process of L2 syntactic structures, particularly for infrequent, dissimilar, or less preferred L2 syntactic structures, (iii) employing verb overlap can influence the correct formulation of dissimilar L2 syntactic structures, promoting the production of these structures. Additionally, increasing exposure to less preferred L2 syntactic structures in the language input is an effective method to teach these structures to late L2 learners. (iv) Finally, explicit L2 instruction plays an important role in predicting structural preferences and structural priming effects. Therefore, I suggest a strong(er) collaboration between psycholinguists and second language teachers to enhance our understanding of L2 syntactic acquisition.
Antwerpen : Universiteit Antwerpen, Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, Departement Taalkunde , 2023
313 p.
Supervisor: Bernolet, Sarah [Supervisor]
Supervisor: Hartsuiker, Robert J. [Supervisor]
Full text (open access)
Research group
Publication type
Publications with a UAntwerp address
External links
Creation 28.09.2023
Last edited 08.10.2023
To cite this reference