Anticipatory and Locally Coherent Lexical Activation Varies as a Function of Language Proficiency

Abstract

Interpreting sentences spoken in a second language can be demanding and plagued with uncertainty, especially for lower proficiency listeners. While native language listeners use numerous information sources to anticipate upcoming words easily and accurately, the pattern of anticipation may be different for second language users. We explore this issue in bilinguals with a wide range of English proficiency by recording anticipatory eye-movements as participants listened to sentences (e.g., “The pirate chases the ship”) for which the object and three distractors (agent-related, action-related, unrelated) appeared in the concurrently presented images. All participants made use of combinatory information to launch anticipatory looks to the target object, but higher proficiency participants were faster than lower proficiency participants. Fixations to action-related distractors after onset of the action also varied by proficiency, with lower proficiency participants showing greater tendency to fixate this locally coherent action-related distractor. We review several possible reasons for this pattern.


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