Published in: Studies in Second Language Acquisition 27: 53-78.
Gaps in Second Language Sentence Processing
Theodore Marinis, Leah Roberts, Claudia Felser & Harald Clahsen
University of Essex
Running Head: Gaps in second language processing
© Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Department of Language and Linguistics
University of Essex
Colchester CO4 3SQ
Four groups of second language (L2) learners of English from different language
backgrounds (Chinese, Japanese, German & Greek) and a group of native speaker controls
participated in an on-line reading-time experiment with sentences involving long-distance
wh-dependencies. While the native speakers showed evidence of making use of intermediate
syntactic gaps during processing, the L2 learners appeared to associate the fronted wh-phrase
directly with its lexical subcategoriser, regardless of whether or not the subjacency constraint
was operative in their native language. This finding is argued to support the hypothesis that
L2 learners under-use syntactic information in L2 processing, which prevents them from
processing the L2 input in a native-like fashion.
The real-time processing of sentences involving displaced constituents, or 'filler-gap
dependencies', has been the focus of a considerable body of psycholinguistic research on
monolingual sentence comprehension. A syntactically dislocated constituent such as the
fronted wh-phrase which book in Which book did you read in only one hour? poses a
challenge for the human sentence processing mechanism insofar as it cannot be fully
integrated immediately into the emerging semantic or discourse representation but instead
must be retained in short-time memory until it can be linked to its subcategoriser, or thematic
role assigner. As the computational cost incurred by temporarily storing a filler in short-term
memory increases with the distance between the filler and its associated gap (see, among
others, Gibson 1998; King & Just, 1991; King & Kutas, 1995; Kluender & Kutas, 1993), the
human sentence processing mechanism will normally attempt to integrate a dislocated
element at the earliest grammatically possible point during parsing. This well-documented
preference for keeping filler-gap dependencies as short as possible is known as the Active
Filler Hypothesis (Clifton & Frazier, 1989).
Linguistic theories differ with respect to the way filler-gap dependencies are analysed.
Within the generative-transformational tradition, a displaced constituent is assumed to form
a syntactic dependency with an empty category at its base position, and is thus only
indirectly linked to its subcategoriser. According to the copy theory of movement (Chomsky
1995, and later), the empty category (= ei in example  below) involved in filler-gap
dependencies is a silent but otherwise identical copy of the displaced constituent itself.
Which booki did you read ei in only an hour?
Some lexically-based syntactic frameworks including variants of Head-Driven Phrase
Structure Grammar, on the other hand, assume that a dislocated element is linked directly to
its lexical subcategoriser (Pollard & Sag, 1994). This linguistic controversy has given rise to
different hypotheses as to how filler-gap dependencies are processed, the Trace Reactivation
Hypothesis (TRH), according to which the human parser postulates empty categories
('traces') during the on-line comprehension of sentences containing such dependencies
(Bever & McElree 1988; Love & Swinney, 1996; Nicol & Swinney, 1989; Swinney, Ford,
Frauenfelder & Bresnan, 1988, among others), and the Direct Association Hypothesis
(DAH), which maintains that establishing a filler-gap dependency is a lexically-driven
process triggered by the automatic mental reconstruction of the subcategoriser's argument
structure when this is encountered (Pickering & Barry, 1991; Sag & Fodor, 1994).
Results from a number of studies on monolingual sentence comprehension suggest that two
distinct mental processes may in fact be involved in the processing of filler-gap
dependencies: (i) a phrase structure-based mechanism that triggers a filler's retrieval from
short-term memory at a specific structural position (the processing equivalent of inserting a
copy of the filler into a particular syntactic slot, as predicted by the TRH); and (ii) a
lexically-driven process of semantically integrating a displaced constituent with its thematic
role assigner or other licenser, as predicted by the DAH. Whereas these two processes are
usually difficult to dissociate empirically in head-initial languages like English (but see
Nicol, 1993), evidence for the TRH can be gathered from studies on the processing of filler-
gap dependencies in verb-final languages such as Japanese (Nakano, Felser & Clahsen,
2002) or German (Clahsen & Featherston, 1999; Featherston 2001; Fiebach, Schlesewsky &
Friederici, 2002), which found filler-reactivation effects before the subcategorising verb had
Regardless of whether or not a filler is assumed to be linked to its lexical subcategoriser via
empty categories located within the subcategoriser's extended projection, though, most
contemporary syntactic theories agree that for dependencies spanning more than one clause,
some kind of intermediate linguistic structure is present at intervening clause boundaries
which mediates between the filler and its ultimate gap (or subcategoriser). An example of
what is commonly referred to as 'successive-cyclic wh-movement' is provided in (2) below.
Whoi do you think ei (that) John says ei (that) Mary likes ei ?
Traditional evidence for the successive-cyclic nature of wh-movement includes various types
of 'island' effect (Ross, 1967), wh-complementiser agreement in languages like Irish
(McCloskey, 2001), children's use of medial wh in questions such as Who do you think who's
in the box? (Thornton, 1990), and wh-copying found in a number of languages including
German, Frisian, Afrikaans, and Romani (see Felser, in press, and references cited there).
Psycholinguistic evidence for successive-cyclicity has been found, for example, in a study by
Kluender & Kutas (1993) using event-related brain potentials (ERPs), and in a reading-time
study by Gibson & Warren (1999). Kluender & Kutas observed that the processing difficulty
for sentences containing subjacency violations such as (3) below increased (relative to
sentences in which subjacency was respected) both at the intervening wh-pronoun and at the
filler's base position.1
(3) *Whoi couldn't you decide who should sing something for ei at the family
Gibson & Warren (1999) investigated native English speakers' processing of grammatical
sentences containing long-distance wh-dependencies like that in sentence (4) below.
(4) The manager whoi the consultant claimed ei that the new proposal had pleased ei
will hire five workers tomorrow.
Similar to Kluender & Kutas (1993), the authors found that the availability of an
intermediate 'landing site' facilitated a filler's integration with its subcategoriser, thus
providing indirect evidence for the psychological reality of intermediate gaps in L1 sentence
processing. Gibson & Warren's reading-time study provided the model for the present study,
and will be discussed in more detail in section 3.1 below.
While there is ample evidence that the mental representations constructed during L1
sentence processing are built up rapidly and in an incremental fashion, and also include
abstract linguistic structure such as empty categories, or syntactic gaps, surprisingly little is
known to date about the way second language learners process the L2 input in real time.
Instead, L2 research has traditionally focused on the acquisition of grammatical knowledge
using off-line methodologies such as grammaticality judgement, elicitation techniques, or
comprehension tasks. Previous studies of L1 sentence processing in a range of different
languages have shown, however, that between-language variation is not restricted to
differences in grammar, but that some processing strategies may also be subject to cross-
linguistic variation (Cuetos, Mitchell & Corley, 1996; Frazier & Rayner, 1988; Gibson,
Pearlmutter, Canseco-Gonzalez & Hickok, 1996; Mazuka & Lust, 1990, among others).
Hence, besides being faced with the task of acquiring the L2 grammar, L2 learners may also
need to acquire any language-specific processing strategies that are used in the target
language. The observation that sentence processing is not necessarily uniform across
languages also raises the possibility of L1 processing transfer in L2 acquisition, an issue that
has featured prominently in much research within the framework of the Competition Model
of language acquisition and processing (Harrington, 1987; MacWhinney, 1997, 2002). It is
conceivable, for example, that L2 learners from wh-in-situ backgrounds fail to process wh-
dependencies in L2 English in a native-like way, whereas L2 learners whose L1 also shows
overt wh-movement are indistinguishable from native speakers in this domain.
Our previous studies of L2 processing indicate that although L2 learners, like native
speakers, are guided by lexical information during parsing, they rely on phrase-structure
information to a lesser extent than native speakers do - irrespectively of their language
background (Felser, Roberts, Gross & Marinis, 2003; Papadopoulou & Clahsen, 2003;
Roberts, 2003). If this is correct, then we might expect that when processing wh-
dependencies, L2 learners perform in accordance with the DAH but do not postulate any
intermediate syntactic gaps.
2. Previous studies of L2 learners' processing of wh-dependencies
The vast majority of existing L2 studies on the acquisition of wh-movement and subjacency
have used off-line tasks such as grammaticality judgements, and their results are not fully
conclusive.2 Only a few published studies are available to date that have examined the real-
time processing of wh-movement by L2 learners using on-line tasks. A reading-time study
carried out by Juffs & Harrington (1995) addressed the issue of whether it is processing
difficulties or a competence deficit that causes problems with certain types of filler-gap
dependencies for learners of English whose native language does not show successive-cyclic
wh-movement and thus arguably lacks the subjacency constraint. Juffs & Harrington report
the results from two on-line grammaticality judgement experiments that measured Chinese-
speaking learners' accuracy and reading times for grammatical and ungrammatical sentences
involving either subject and object extractions. The results from the full-sentence
presentation version of the experiment showed that the Chinese-speaking learners' response
accuracy was comparable to the native speakers' for ungrammatical subject and object
extractions, indicating that they had acquired the subjacency constraint. They performed
significantly worse than the native speakers, however, on grammatical sentences involving
subject - but not object - extraction (compare also White & Juffs, 1998). The learners'
difficulties with subject extractions were also reflected in their on-line reading times. In the
experiment using word-by-word presentation, the two participant groups showed distinct
patterns of processing the grammatical sentences. Specifically, the learners were found to
slow down significantly more at the region following the matrix verb in subject extractions
from finite clauses such as (5a) below than in object extractions, as in (5b). No such
slowdown was attested in the group of native speaker controls.
(5) a. Whoi did Ann say ei likes her friend? (subject extraction)
b. Which mani did Jane say her friends like ei ? (object extraction)
The authors argue that the learners' relatively poorer performance on subject extractions
reflects processing rather than competence problems (cf. Juffs & Harrington, 1996). Observe
that in sentences like (5a) above, the gap following the verb say may initially be analysed as
an object gap, a decision that must be revised as soon as the embedded verb likes is
encountered. While this kind of reanalysis causes no or little processing difficulty for native
speakers, it does, according to Juffs & Harrington, pose a problem for L2 learners.
Note, however, that given the nature of Juffs & Harrington's materials, their results do not
provide any unequivocal evidence for the learners' use of empty categories during
processing. As the purported trace position is adjacent to the subcategorising verb, the
slowdown observed in the post-gap region may also be due to the learners' trying to link the
fronted wh-phrase directly to its subcategoriser, in accordance with the DAH. The possibility
that the learners may have a lexically or verb-driven processing strategy is strengthened by
the fact that the learners (but not the native speakers) also showed elevated reading times at
the matrix verb say, a region prior to the locus of reanalysis. Juffs & Harrington (1996,
p.300) speculate that the learners may be confused by the lack of semantic fit of the wh-
pronoun who as the object of say at this point.
Another reading-time study by Williams, Möbius & Kim (2001) investigated so-called
'filled-gap' effects in L2 processing, and the question of whether or not L2 learners are
sensitive to plausibility constraints during parsing. Their experimental sentences involved
adjunct extractions in two plausibility conditions, as shown in (6a) and (6b) below.
(6) a. Which friendi did the gangster hide the car for ei late last night?
b. Which cavei did the gangster hide the car in ei late last night?
In example (6a), the fronted wh-phrase is a plausible object of the verb hide, whereas in
example (6b) it is not. Previous studies have shown that native speakers of English initially
attempt to analyse the displaced wh-phrase as a direct object, a misanalysis that gives rise to
increased processing difficulty when the real object the car is encountered (compare e.g.
Stowe, 1986). In Williams et al.'s self-paced reading experiment, Chinese, Korean, and
German-speaking learners of English were asked to read sentences presented on a computer
screen in a word-by-word fashion, and to indicate the point at which they thought the
sentence had become implausible by pressing a 'stop' button. Assuming that on-line sentence
comprehension is incremental in nature, the authors predicted that if the learners adopt a
filler-driven or 'gap-as-first-resort' strategy, then the wh-phrase in both conditions would
initially be analysed as the object of the verb when this is encountered. A filled-gap effect
would then be observed on the post-verbal NP, reflected in longer reading times, due to the
need for reanalysis at this point. If, on the other hand, a gap is posited only as a last-resort
strategy (that is, to avoid ungrammaticality; compare Fodor, 1978), then no such slowdown
would be expected at the post-verbal NP.
In the ‘stop-making-sense’ task, the learners behaved similarly to the native speakers. All but
the Chinese-speaking participants made more ‘stop’ decisions at and immediately after the
verb in the 'Implausible-at-V' condition than in the corresponding plausible condition,
suggesting that both the learners and the native speakers were sensitive to plausibility
information. The analysis of the reading time data showed that for all participant groups, the
post-verbal noun in the 'Plausible-at-V' condition elicited longer reading times compared to
the post-verbal noun in the 'Implausible-at-V' condition. This indicates that both the native
speakers and the learners analysed the wh-filler as the direct object of the verb, and that the
plausibility of the wh-filler as a direct object affected the ease of reanalysis. The learners’ L1
background did not appear to have any effect on how they processed the experimental
sentences. Only the native speakers showed an effect of plausibility at the determiner
introducing the post-verbal NP, however. According to the authors, the earlier onset of the
filled-gap effect observed in the native group may indicate a greater sensitivity to the
syntactic cue provided by the determiner, which signalled an incoming NP.
Williams et al.'s on-line experiment was complemented by an off-line acceptability
judgement task to investigate the different learner groups’ ability to recover from
misanalysis. The results showed that the learners but not the native speakers judged the
'Plausible-at-V' sentences unacceptable significantly more often than the 'Implausible-at-V'
ones. Similarly to Juffs & Harrington (1995, 1996), the authors conclude that the learners
have more difficulty than native speakers recovering from an initial misanalysis, particularly
when this analysis is plausible, suggesting an over-commitment to a strongly plausible first
Summarising, Williams et al.'s results suggest that L2 learners, like native speakers, employ
a filler-driven parsing strategy when processing wh-dependencies, irrespective of their
language background. A potential problem with this study, however, is that there is no
evidence that the learners interpreted the experimental items correctly. Recall that in the off-
line task, the learners judged many of the experimental sentences as unacceptable even
though they were both grammatical and fully plausible by the end of the sentence. Observe
further that like the results from Juffs & Harrington's (1995) study, Williams et al.'s results
do not bear directly on the question of whether or not L2 learners postulate empty categories
during processing. It is possible that the participants associated the wh-filler with the verb
directly, a decision that they were forced to undo when the actual Theme or Patient argument
became available. As the authors point out themselves, the filled-gap effect observed on the
post-verbal noun in the non-native participants may reflect purely thematic, rather than
thematic and syntactic, reanalysis processes. The current study aims to dissociate potentially
verb-driven integration effects from syntactic gap-filling by examining L2 learners'
processing of successive-cyclic wh-movement structures.
3. The present study
Our study was modelled after Gibson & Warren's (1999) study on the processing of long wh-
dependencies by adult native speakers of English. Using a self-paced reading task, Gibson &
Warren (hereafter, G&W) investigated how native speakers process sentences such as (7a)
and (7b) below.
(7) a. The manager whoi the consultant claimed e'i that the new proposal
had pleased ei will hire five workers tomorrow.
b. The manager whoi the consultant's claim about the new proposal
had pleased ei will hire five workers tomorrow.
The sentences in (7) above differ in that (7a) but not (7b) provides an intermediate landing
site for the fronted wh-pronoun. This is because in (7a), wh-movement has crossed a clause
boundary that signals the beginning of a new cyclic domain, whereas (7b) involves
extraction across a noun phrase. Crucially, the linear distance between the filler and its
ultimate gap (as measured in terms of the number of intervening words) was kept the same in
both experimental conditions. In order to control for a possible confounding effect of
subject-verb distance, G&W's materials also included sentences of the following types,
which did not involve any wh-movement but which differed in the relative distance between
the verb pleased and the head of its subject (viz. proposal in [8a], and claim in [8b]).
(8) a. The consultant claimed that the new proposal had pleased the manager who will
hire five workers tomorrow.
b. The consultant's claim about the new proposal had pleased the manager who will
hire five workers tomorrow.
The authors found an interaction between extraction and intervening phrase type at the
region containing the wh-filler's subcategoriser pleased. Reading times were shorter for
sentences such as (8a) that provided an intermediate landing site than for sentences such as
(8b), an effect that was not present in the non-extraction conditions and thus cannot be
attributed to any differences in subject-verb distance between the VP and NP conditions.
Furthermore, the reading times elicited by the complementiser that in (7a) were found to be
longer than in the corresponding non-extraction condition (8a), although the interaction
between extraction and intervening phrase type did not reach significance here.
The 'intermediate gap' effect observed by G&W supports a strong version of the Active
Filler Hypothesis according to which a filler is reactivated cyclically so as to break up long
dependencies into a series of shorter ones (compare Crocker, 1996; Frazier & Clifton, 1989).
Note, however, that there was an asymmetry in G&W's experimental materials between the
extraction and non-extraction conditions in that the extraction conditions contained more
words than the non-extraction conditions, and one additional level of embedding before the
critical segments. This asymmetry may have introduced a confound such that lower reading
times in the non-extraction conditions might have been partly due to the differences in length
and/or structural complexity between the extraction and non-extraction conditions.
The present study has two major aims: (i) to replicate G&W's finding with native speakers of
English using improved materials, and (ii) to investigate whether L2 learners of English from
different language backgrounds process long wh-dependencies in the same way, or
differently from, native speakers. To test whether the learners' L1 background has an effect
on their processing of long wh-dependencies in L2 English, we examined learners from both
wh-movement (Greek, German) and wh-in-situ backgrounds (Chinese, Japanese).
Four groups of learners of L2 English participated in the current study: 34 Chinese-speaking
learners (mean age = 25, range = 17-33), 26 Japanese-speaking learners (mean age = 27,
range = 20-40), 24 German-speaking learners (mean age = 24, range = 19-46), and 30
Greek-speaking learners (mean age = 25, range = 20-37), as well as a group of 24 native
English-speaking controls (mean age = 24, range = 19-34). The participants were recruited
from among the undergraduate and postgraduate student communities at the University of
XXXX and were paid a small fee for their participation. All participants had normal or
corrected-to-normal vision, and were naïve with respect to the purpose of the experiment.
The Chinese-speaking learners were all native speakers of Mandarin Chinese. All learners
had first been exposed to English around the age of 11 in a classroom setting, and none of
them considered themselves bilingual. Table 1 provides an overview of the learners' age at
the time of testing, their age of first exposure to English, and the time the participants had
spent in the UK at the time of testing.
Insert Table 1 about here
To determine the learners' general proficiency in English at the time of testing, all of them
underwent a standardised proficiency test, the Oxford Placement Test (OPT; Allen, 1992).
As our experimental materials involved structurally complex sentences, only learners at or
above the 'upper intermediate' level (i.e., learners scoring 145/200 points or above) were
included in our study. In addition to the OPT, the learners also completed an off-line
questionnaire, the purpose of which was to ensure that they were able to comprehend
complex sentences of the kind that were later used in the on-line task. The questionnaire
consisted of 20 sentences that were similar but not identical to the sentences used in the self-
paced reading task. There were five sentences corresponding to each of the four
experimental conditions in the on-line experiment, as described below in the Materials
section. Each sentence was followed by a comprehension question and three choices, as
illustrated by (9) below (for the full set of questionnaire materials, see Appendix A).
(9) The captain who the officer decided that the young soldier had displeased will
write a formal report next week.
Who made a decision?
the captain the officer the soldier
The participants were instructed to read the sentences and indicate which of the three
answers they considered the most appropriate. Table 2 presents a summary of the
participant's scores in the OPT and in the off-line questionnaire.
Insert Table 2 about here
All participants scored at 75% or above correct in the Questionnaire, suggesting that they
could handle the types of sentences used in the self-paced reading experiment in an off-line
The materials for the on-line task comprised a total of 88 sentences, including 8 practice
items, 20 experimental sentences, and 60 filler sentences. The reason of including such a
large number of fillers was to prevent the participants from being able to guess the purpose
of the experiment, and to keep them from developing any response strategies. Each of the
experimental sentences came in four versions in a 2x2 design with the conditions (+/-)
Extraction crossed by (VP/NP) Phrase Type, as illustrated by (10a-d) below (the full set of
experimental sentences is provided in Appendix B).
(10) a. EXTRACTION,VP
The nurse whoi the doctor argued e'i that the rude patient had angered ei is refusing
to work late.
b. EXTRACTION, NP
The nurse whoi the doctor’s argument about the rude patient had angered ei is
refusing to work late.
c. NON-EXTRACTION, VP
The nurse thought the doctor argued that the rude patient had angered the staff at the
d. NON-EXTRACTION, NP
The nurse thought the doctor’s argument about the rude patient had angered the staff
at the hospital.
The sentences used in the two extraction conditions were structurally identical to those used
by G&W. In the extraction conditions, an initial NP (the nurse) was followed by a relative
clause that was introduced by a wh-pronoun (who) functioning as the object of the embedded
verb (angered). The intermediate verb in the Extraction-VP conditions (argued) was always
a bridge verb, i.e. one that permits wh-extraction out of its complement clause. Although the
[+human] relative pronoun who did not make a plausible direct object for the bridge verbs
used in the Extraction-VP condition, it is at least conceivable that the parser initially
misanalyses the filler as the object of the higher verb (i.e., argued) on purely structural, 'least
effort' grounds. To ensure as far as possible that the filler would not be mistaken for the
object of the higher verb, we used only verbs that were strongly biased towards taking a
sentential complement. Six verbs (claim, argue, prove, suggest, conclude, and decide) were
selected from Garnsey, Pearlmutter, Myers & Lotocky's (1997) list of sentential complement
verbs, and a further six were tested independently for their complement bias. To this end, ten
native speakers of English were given both a free and a forced-choice sentence completion
task, and out of the six verbs tested, we selected three (dream, state, and think) that showed a
strong sentential complement bias of 73% or above.
The sentences in the two non-extraction conditions differed from G&W's in that they
contained exactly the same number of words (up to the embedded verb) as the sentences in
the corresponding extraction conditions. By way of avoiding any asymmetry between the
extraction and corresponding non-extraction conditions with respect to the degree of
structural complexity, we added a further level of embedding to the sentences in the non-
Four different experimental scenarios were created, each of which contained only one
version of each experimental sentence. The conditions were distributed evenly across the
four versions, so that each participant saw the same number of sentences per condition. The
experimental sentences were pseudo-randomised and mixed with the filler sentences, and
were preceded by the same practice items. All experimental sentences and half of the fillers
were followed by a comprehension question, the purpose of which was to ensure that the
subjects read the sentence properly and made an active effort to comprehend their contents.
The pretests (OPT & Questionnaire) and the on-line task were administered in two separate
sessions, with approximately one week in between. Reading-time and comprehension
accuracy data were collected using the non-cumulative moving-window procedure (Just,
Carpenter & Woolley, 1982). The presentation of the stimuli and the recording of reaction
times and end-of-sentence responses was controlled by the MS DOS version of the NESU
software package (Baumann, Nagengast & Klaas, 1993). The stimulus sentences were
presented in a segment-by-segment fashion, in white letters (Arial 24pt) on a black
background in the centre of a 17'' monitor. The experimental sentences were divided into six
segments as indicated in example (11) below.
(11) The nurse who / the doctor argued / that / the rude patient /
1 2 3 4
had angered / is refusing to work late.
Participants were instructed to read each segment as quickly as possible for comprehension
and then to press a pacing button as soon as they were ready to receive the next segment. In
this way, a step-by-step record can be obtained of the parse as it unfolds. The underlying
rationale is that increased reaction times to a specific segment (relative to the corresponding
segment in a control condition) indicate a relatively higher processing difficulty at this
region of the sentence.
The end of each sentence was indicated by a full stop after the last word of the final segment.
The last segment of each experimental sentence and of half of the filler sentences was
followed by a comprehension question (e.g., Who angered the nurse?). Following the
presentation of the question, two answer options appeared on the screen, one at the left and
one on the right-hand side. For half of the questions the correct answer was the one on the
left-hand side of the screen, and for the other half the one on the right-hand side was the
correct one. Participants were instructed to press either the left or right button of a dual push-
button box depending on which of the answers (left or right) they thought was the correct
one. After the end of each trial, a message appeared on the screen instructing participants to
press a dedicated key on the keyboard in order to trigger the start of the next trial. All
participants completed the on-line task in approximately 30 minutes.
All participant groups scored highly in answering the comprehension questions that followed
the experimental sentences. The native speakers' mean accuracy score was 79.5%. The
Chinese group scored 79%, the Japanese group 74.5%, the German group 84.75%, and the
Greek group 79.75% correct. This demonstrates that the participants were paying attention to
the task, and that they were reading the sentences properly. The data from one Chinese-
speaking participant who only scored 42% (= 2 SD below the group mean) correct were
excluded from further analysis. A mixed three-way ANOVA with Extraction (extraction vs.
non-extraction) and Phrase Type (VP vs. NP) as within-subjects factors and Language
(English, Chinese, Japanese, German, Greek) as between-subjects factor showed no
significant main effects or interactions. This indicates that the learner groups did not differ
from each other or from the native speakers with respect to their ability to comprehend the
experimental sentences. Moreover, neither the presence vs. absence of a filler-gap
dependency nor the type of the intervening phrase (VP vs. NP) appeared to have influenced
the participants' accuracy scores.
4.2 Reading times
The relevant segments for determining whether or not intermediate syntactic gaps were
postulated during processing are segments 3 and 5. Segment 3 in the Extraction-VP
condition (10a) contains the complementiser that, which is hypothesized to trigger the
reactivation of the filler who at this position, whereas in the corresponding non-extraction
condition (10c) the complementiser merely indicates the beginning of an embedded clause.
Thus if the participants postulate an intermediate gap at this point during processing in
sentences such as (10a), we expect segment 3 to elicit longer RTs in the Extraction-VP
condition than in the Non-Extraction-VP condition. Segment 5 contains the verb to which
the filler ultimately needs to be linked in the extraction conditions. Recall that in sentences
where an intermediate gap is possible (i.e., in the Extraction-VP condition), the relevant
distance between the filler and its subcategoriser is shorter than in sentences that do not
permit the insertion of an intermediate gap, if the filler is mentally reactivated at the
intermediate gap site. Following G&W, we therefore predict that if filler integration is
facilitated by the presence of an intermediate gap, RTs to segment 5 should be shorter in the
Extraction-VP condition than in the Extraction-NP condition.
Furthermore, if the learners process long wh-dependencies in the same way as native
speakers, we expect to find no statistical differences between the five participant groups. If,
however, properties of the first language have an impact on the way long wh-dependencies
are processed in L2 English, then we might expect to find differences between the Chinese
and Japanese-speaking learners on the one hand, and the German and Greek-speaking
learners on the other. This is because unlike German or Greek, Chinese and Japanese lack
successive-cyclic wh-movement. Finally, if L2 sentence processing differs from L1
processing but is not influenced by properties of the L1 grammar, we should find differences
between the native speakers and the learners, but not among the individual learner groups.
Following standard practise in this type of experiment, we included only reading times (RTs)
from correctly answered trials in the statistical analysis. Prior to the analysis of the data,
responses were screened for trials whose total reading time exceeded a time-out of 20,000
ms for the native speakers and 25,000 for the learners.3 This affected 0.79% of the data from
the English group, 1.67% of data from the Chinese group, 1.04% of the data from the
Japanese group, 0.47% of the data from the German group, and 1.04% of data from the
Greek group. In addition, we screened the participants' RTs to each segment for outliers, and
eliminated individual data points beyond 2 SD from the mean RTs for each condition per
subject and item. This affected 3.86% of the data from the native speakers, 3.66% of the
Chinese learners' data, 0.73% of the Japanese learners' data, 3.08% of the German learners'
data, and 2.04% of the Greek learners' data. Finally, the data from one Chinese and two
German-speaking participants were excluded because their data sets were incomplete. The
remaining data from 32 Chinese, 26 Japanese, 22 German and 30 Greek-speaking learners of
English, and from 24 native speaker controls were included in the statistical analysis.
Table 3 provides an overview of the five participant groups' mean RTs to each segment for
Insert Table 3 about here
To determine whether there were any differences in processing the experimental sentences
between the groups, we carried out a mixed three-way ANOVA with the factors Extraction
(extraction vs. non-extraction) and Phrase Type (VP vs. NP) as within-subjects factors and
Language (English, Chinese, Japanese, German, Greek) as a between-subjects factor. Recall
that segments 3 and 5 are the crucial ones for the issue under investigation.
At Segment 3, we found a main effect of Extraction (F1(1, 129) = 8.412, p < 0.01; F2(1, 94)
= 6.321, p < 0.05), a main effect of Phrase Type in the items analysis that was approaching
significance in the subjects analysis (F1(1, 129) = 3.081, p = 0.085; F2(1, 94) =8.814, p <
0.01), as well as a main effect of Language (F1(1, 129) = 2.443, p = 0.05; F2(4, 94) = 8.082,
p < 0.001). The analysis also revealed an interaction of Phrase Type and Language that was
significant in the items analysis (F1(4, 129) = 0.718, p > 0.1; F2(4, 94) = 2.534, p < 0.05).
Additionally, a three-way interaction between Extraction, Phrase Type and Language was
found to be approaching significance (F1(4, 129) = 2.418, p = 0.05; F2(4, 94) = 2. 181, p =
0.077). These results suggest that there were differences among the five participant groups
with respect to how they processed segment 3.
The analysis of segment 5 revealed a main effect of Extraction (F1(1, 130) = 49.011, p <
0.001; F2(1, 94) = 56.882, p < 0.001), a main effect of Language (F1(4, 130) = 4.130, p <
0.001; F2(4, 94) =30.554, p < 0.001), and an interaction of Phrase Type and Language in the
items analysis (F1(4, 130) = 2.004, p = 0.098; F2(4, 94) = 3.088, p < 0.05). This interaction
indicates that there are differences between the language groups with respect to Phrase Type.
As the above results showed interactions with the factor Language at both segments 3 and 5,
we went on to analyse the data from each of the five participant groups separately.
We performed separate two-way ANOVAs for segments 3 and 5 with the factors Extraction
and Phrase Type. The analysis of the native speakers' RTs to segment 3 revealed a main
effect of Extraction (F1(1, 23) = 4.578, p < 0.05; F2(1, 19) = 9.672, p < 0.01), reflecting the
fact that RTs for the extraction conditions were significantly slower than those for the non-
extraction conditions, as well as a main effect of Phrase Type in the items analysis (F1(1, 23)
= 0.844, p > 0.1; F2(1, 19) = 4.967, p < 0.05). Like G&W, we found no significant
interaction between Extraction and Phrase Type, however.
At Segment 5, the two extraction conditions again produced longer reading times than the
non-extraction conditions, but with the Extraction-VP condition being read more quickly
than the Extraction-NP condition. The ANOVA for this segment showed a main effect of
Extraction (F1(1, 23) = 11.054, p < 0.01; F2(1, 19) = 20.355, p < 0.001), a main effect of
Phrase Type (F1(1, 23) = 4.759, p < 0.05; F2(1, 19) = 4.715, p < 0.05) and an interaction
between Extraction and Phrase Type (F1(1, 23) = 4.994, p < 0.05; F2(1, 19) = 4.364, p =
0.05). Subsequent pairwise comparisons revealed significant differences between the
Extraction-VP and Non-Extraction-VP conditions (t1(23) = 2.560, p < 0.05; t2(19) = 2.389,
p < 0.05) and between the Extraction-NP and Non-Extraction-NP conditions (t1(23) = 3.551,
p < 0.01; t2(19) = 4.322, p < 0.001), which reflect the additional processing cost associated
with integrating a filler with its subcategoriser in the extraction conditions. Crucially, the
difference between the Extraction-VP and Extraction-NP conditions also proved significant
(t1(23) = 2.441, p < 0.05; t2(19) = 2.220, p < 0.05), suggesting that filler integration was
comparatively less costly in the Extraction-VP condition. The fact that the RTs for the two
non-extraction conditions (811 vs. 820 ms) did not differ significantly suggests that the
relative distance between the critical verb and its subject did not affect processing time at the
segment containing the verb.
In sum, the results from our native speakers essentially replicate G&W's findings. Like
G&W, we observed elevated reading times at the intervening clause boundary in the
Extraction-VP condition compared to the corresponding non-extraction condition, and
shorter RTs to the segment containing the filler's subcategoriser for the Extraction-VP than
for the Extraction-NP condition. These results support the hypothesis that native speakers of
English postulate intermediate gaps during the processing of long wh-dependencies, which
facilitates the filler's integration with its subcategoriser.
As before for the native speakers, we carried out separate two-way ANOVA with the factors
Extraction and Phrase Type for each learner group for the critical segments.
At segment 3, the analyses of the data from the Chinese and Japanese-speaking learners
showed no main effects or interactions. For the German learners, we found a main effect of
Phrase Type in the items analysis that was marginally significant in the subjects analysis
(F1(1, 21) = 3.925, p = 0.061; F2(1, 18) = 10.569, p < 0.01), and a main effect of Extraction
in the subjects analysis only (F1(1, 21) = 4.388, p < 0.05; F2(1, 18) = 2.186, p > 0.1). The
analysis of the Greek learners' data showed a main effect of Phrase Type in the items
analysis that was approaching significance in the subjects analysis (F1(1, 21) = 3.593, p =
0.068; F2(1, 19) = 6.315, p < 0.05), but no effect of Extraction. Unlike the native speakers,
then, none of the learners group showed a reliable main effect of Extraction at segment 3,
which indicates that the presence of a dislocated element earlier in the sentence did not
significantly affect their processing of this segment.
At segment 5, all learner groups showed longer reading times in the extraction conditions
than in the non-extraction conditions. The analyses of variance revealed a main effect of
Extraction for all groups (Chinese group: F1(1, 31) = 6.069, p < 0.05; F2(1, 19) = 4.157, p =
0.056; Japanese group: F1(1, 25) = 8.162, p < 0.01; F2(1, 19) = 5.216, p < 0.05; German
group: F1(1, 21) = 15.175, p = 0.001; F2(1, 19) = 27.241, p < 0.001; Greek group: F1(1, 29)
= 9.149, p < 0.01; F2(1, 19) = 12.415, p < 0.01). In addition, we found a main effect of
Phrase Type for the Japanese group (F1(1, 25) = 5.031, p < 0.05; F2(1, 19) = 7.482, p =
0.01) that was approaching significance in the subjects analysis for the Chinese group (F1(1,
31) = 3.129, p = 0.086; F2(1, 19) = 0.868, p > 0.1) and in the items analysis for the German
group (F1(1, 21) = 2.551, p > 0.1; F2(1, 19) = 4.278, p = 0.053). No interactions between
Extraction and Phrase Type were observed in any of the learner groups, however. The
Extraction effects suggests that the learners integrated the filler with its subcategoriser at
segment 5 in both extraction conditions, but that filler integration was not facilitated by the
availability of an intermediate syntactic gap in the Extraction-VP condition. Note that for the
German group, the Extraction-VP condition actually elicited longer RTs at segment 5 than
the Extraction-NP condition. The observed effects of Phrase Type reflect the fact that some
of the learner groups read segment 5 more quickly in either the VP or the NP conditions,
independently of the presence of extraction.
Recall that the most crucial result from the native speakers was the interaction between
Extraction and Phrase Type observed at segment 5. In the sentences involving extraction, the
Extraction-VP condition elicited shorter reading times than the Extraction-NP condition,
whereas no such difference was found between the corresponding non-extraction conditions.
This pattern indicates that native speakers of English associate the filler with an intermediate
gap when processing sentences involving wh-extraction from an embedded clause, which
facilitates filler integration later on. By contrast, none of the four learners groups showed any
such interaction or 'intermediate gap' effect, suggesting that L2 learners process long wh-
dependencies differently from native speakers.
The purpose of the current study was to investigate whether or not both native speakers and
L2 learners of English make use of intermediate gaps during the processing of long wh-
dependencies. The main results of the self-paced reading experiment can be summarised as
• Both the native speakers and the learners proved equally good at comprehending
sentences involving long-distance wh-dependencies.
• All participants showed an effect of extraction at segment 5, indicating that they
attempted to integrate the displaced wh-phrase with its subcategorising verb at this point
during the parse (filler-integration effect).
• For the native speakers, filler integration was facilitated by the presence of an
intermediate gap in sentences involving extraction across a clause boundary
(intermediate gap effect).
• We found no intermediate gap effect in the L2 data, suggesting that independently of
their L1 background, the learners failed to postulate any intermediate syntactic structure
when processing sentences containing long wh-dependencies.
In the following, we will discuss the above findings and their implications for theories of L1
and L2 sentence processing.
Intermediate gaps in L1 processing
Several studies of the processing of filler-gap dependencies have shown that native speakers
of English reactivate a displaced wh-constituent at the position of its associated syntactic
gap. As the purported wh-gaps are located immediately after the verb or other lexical
subcategoriser in English, however, results from these studies usually do not provide
unambiguous evidence for the Trace Reactivation Hypothesis, but instead can also be
explained by direct lexical association. That is, if the processing of a potential subcategoriser
results in the parser's automatically reconstructing its lexical argument structure (Pickering
& Barry, 1991; Sag & Fodor, 1994), then the observed filler-reactivation effects might be the
result of lexically-driven or 'backward' gap-filling rather than reflecting the parser's use of
empty categories. By way of eliminating this potential confound, we followed G&W in
using sentences that involved long-distance dependencies. According to syntactic theories
such as Chomsky's (1995, and later) minimalist framework, sentences involving long wh-
movement also contain intermediate syntactic gaps.
Comparing sentences with and without extraction across either VPs or NPs, we found that
English native speakers postulate such intermediate gaps during real-time processing (thus
replicating G&W's findings). The native speaker group showed elevated RTs to the
complementiser that in the condition involving an intermediate gap relative to the same word
in the corresponding non-extraction condition, which may reflect the increased processing
load associated with the parser's consulting a memory representation of the filler at this point
and linking it to the gap. As in G&W's study, however, the preposition about in the NP
conditions also elicited longer RTs in the extraction condition, so that the results from
segment 3 by themselves do not provide any conclusive evidence for the mental reality of
intermediate gaps. According to G&W, the main effect of extraction observed at this
segment reflects the additional processing cost associated with storing the filler in working
memory in the two extraction conditions. It is also conceivable that although extraction from
a noun phrase containing a 'specified subject' is illicit, the parser attempts to analyse the wh-
filler as the object of the preposition about at this point during processing (compare also
Pickering, Barton & Shillcock, 1994). If the parser does indeed consider the preposition
about as a potential host for the wh-filler, though, then this hypothesis will not be sustained
for long: Not only does such a dependency violate grammatical constraints, but about is also
immediately followed by its own object NP.
The crucial evidence that intermediate gaps do indeed form part of the mental
representations constructed during parsing comes from our analysis of segment 5 - the point
at which the filler is integrated with its subcategoriser. The elevated RTs elicited by the two
extraction conditions compared to the non-extraction conditions can be taken to reflect the
cost of filler integration at this point. Importantly, however, RTs in the condition involving
an intermediate gap were significantly shorter than in the condition involving extraction
across a noun phrase. This effect cannot be attributed to any differences in subject-verb
distance between the two extraction conditions as no such difference in reading times was
observed between the two non-extraction conditions. Given the assumption that the
processing load associated with filler integration increases with the distance between the
filler and its subcategoriser (Gibson, 1998, among others), the shorter RTs observed in the
Extraction-VP condition can be explained by the availability of an intermediate landing site
that serves to break up the long dependency into two shorter ones. Taken together, these
results provide evidence that native speakers of English postulate intermediate gaps during
the processing of long wh-dependencies, in accordance with the subjacency constraint that
forms part of their grammar. Our findings are consistent with a successive-cyclic version of
the Active Filler Hypothesis according to which a filler is retrieved from working memory at
every grammatically possible gap position, and not just upon encountering the lexical
Native speakers vs. L2 learners
The results from Williams et al.'s (2001) reading-time study suggest that L2 learners also
employ a filler-driven strategy when processing wh-dependencies. Like native speakers, their
learners appeared to try and integrate a fronted wh-phrase as soon as possible with a
potential subcategoriser. Both Williams et al.'s and Juffs & Harrington's (1995) results
furthermore indicate that L2 learners may have more difficulty than native speakers
recovering from an initial misanalysis. Recall, however, that the elevated reading times
observed by both Williams et al. and Juffs & Harrington at the reanalysis region are
consistent both with an empty category-based account of gap-filling such as the TRH, and
with direct lexical association. By way of separating out these two possibilities, we used
materials which according to syntactic theory also contain intermediate syntactic gaps. We
found that the presence of such gaps facilitated a wh-filler's integration with its
subcategoriser for the native speakers but not for the learners. This suggests that the L2
learners did not postulate any intermediate syntactic gaps during processing, but instead tried
to link the filler directly to its lexical subcategoriser irrespective of the availability of an
intermediate landing site. Gap-filling in L2 processing, then, appears to be lexically-driven
rather than driven by requirements of the grammar such as the subjacency constraint.
The extraction effect observed for the L2 learners at segment 5 - the region containing the
subcategorising verb - is in accordance with the predictions made by the DAH, whereas the
interaction between phrase type and extraction that we found for the native speakers
indicates that they postulated intermediate empty categories during processing. In short,
there is no evidence in our results to suggest that L2 learners employ a filler-driven strategy
when processing sentences containing long wh-dependencies, or indeed that they postulate
any syntactic gaps at all. Note that our results are not necessarily incompatible with Williams
et al.'s (2002) findings, given that the effects they observed also occurred at or after a
potential subcategoriser. The absence of any reliable extraction effects on segment 3
suggests that the prior encounter of a displaced element did not influence the learners'
processing of the complementiser or preposition, and that the wh-filler was not mentally
reactivated at this point.
Interestingly, their failure to make use of intermediate syntactic gaps did not seem to
compromise the learners' ability to understand the experimental sentences. This observation
suggests that the comprehension of sentences containing long wh-dependencies is not
contingent upon successive-cyclic movement. While the native speakers and the L2 learners
were equally good at comprehending the experimental sentences, the two groups appeared to
employ different processing mechanisms in order to achieve this result. English native
speakers made use of intermediate syntactic gaps, which led to an increase in processing cost
at the clause boundary but facilitated filler integration further downstream. The L2 learners,
in contrast, attempted to establish a direct dependency between the fronted wh-phrase and its
lexical subcategoriser, a strategy that was applied regardless of the possibility of breaking
down the wh-dependency into a series of smaller steps.
Our results are compatible with other studies indicating that second language learners under-
use syntactic information during L2 processing, compared to native speakers. While there is
evidence from various studies that L2 learners, like native speakers, are guided by lexical-
semantic and plausibility information during L2 sentence comprehension (Frenck-Mestre &
Pynte, 1997; Juffs, 1998; Williams et al., 2001), studies by Felser, Roberts, Gross & Marinis
(2003), Papadopoulou & Clahsen (2003) and Roberts (2003) have shown that L2 learners do
not seem to apply any phrase-structure based locality principles when processing temporarily
ambiguous sentences. The hypothesis that L2 processing differs from L1 processing with
respect to the role of phrase structure information in on-line processing is further supported
by the results from ERP studies. Hahne (2001), Hahne & Friederici (2001) and Isel (2002)
found qualitative differences in first-pass parsing between native speakers and L2 learners of
German for sentences that were syntactically ill-formed. While sentences containing phrase-
structure violations elicited two different ERP components associated with the processing of
syntactic information in the native speakers, an early anterior negativity and a P600, the L2
learners showed no early anterior negativity at all, and, depending on their proficiency level,
a delayed or no P600 component.
L1 transfer in L2 processing
The role of L1 transfer in non-native language processing is controversial. Differences in
linguistic performance between native speakers and L2 learners may be due to differences
between the target grammar and the learners' L1 or interlanguage grammar, to differences in
their parser, or possibly, both. While some studies have found evidence of processing
transfer in L2 sentence comprehension (e.g. Frenck-Mestre, 1997; Juffs, 1998), several other
studies, including the present one, have found no differences in processing performance
among learners from typologically different language backgrounds (Felser et al., 2003;
Papadopoulou & Clahsen, 2003; Williams et al., 2001). Our study included four groups of
L2 learners, two of which from wh-movement backgrounds (German and Greek) and two
from wh-in-situ backgrounds (Chinese and Japanese), with similar levels of proficiency in
L2 English. If properties of the learners' L1 grammar influence the way they process
sentences from the L2, then we might have expected the German and Greek-speaking
participants to pattern with the native speakers, and differently from the Chinese and
Japanese-speaking participants. Our results, however, indicate that all L2 groups processed
the experimental sentences in essentially the same way but differently from native speakers.
Specifically, none of the learner groups appeared to postulate any intermediate gaps during
real-time processing, irrespective of whether or not the subjacency constraint was operative
in their L1. This shows that even though the German and Greek-speaking learners' L1
grammatical representations include intermediate syntactic gaps, they do not make use of
such gaps when processing long wh-dependencies in L2 English. Thus our results suggest
that the (successive-cyclic version of the) active filler strategy is not transferred from the L1
to the L2. The absence of such transfer effects may be at least partially explained by the
above hypothesis that L2 learners' sensitivity to syntactic information during real-time
processing is more limited than that of native speakers. Instead, L2 learners seem to rely
more on lexical-semantic and other non-syntactic cues to sentence interpretation.
Our results show that native speakers but not L2 learners apply a successive-cyclic version
of the active filler strategy when processing long wh-dependencies in English. The learners'
failure to make use of intermediate syntactic structure during parsing proved independent of
whether or not their L1 instantiated successive-cyclic wh-movement. This finding lends
further support to the hypothesis that L2 learners' sensitivity to syntactic information during
L2 processing is restricted relative to that of native speakers. The observed dissociation
between the learners' comprehension abilities and on-line sentence processing shows that
although learners are able to comprehend sentences containing long wh-extractions, they do
not use native-like, phrase structure-based processing mechanisms in order to achieve this
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Sentences used in the Questionnaire
1. The manager thought the secretary claimed that the new salesman had pleased the
boss in the meeting.
2. The student who the headmaster’s thoughts about the clever teacher had surprised
does not usually do any homework.
3. The nurse who the doctor argued that the rude patient had angered is refusing to work
4. The witness said the lawyer’s proof about the evil criminal had confused the judge in
court at the trial.
5. The actress who the journalist’s suggestion about the talented writer had inspired will
accept the role in the new play.
6. The customer thought the receptionist stated that the lazy cleaner had annoyed the
manager in the hotel that morning.
7. The farmer said the builder’s thoughts about the dedicated worker had amazed the
boss last week at work.
8. The singer who the musician stated that the drunken guitarist had offended does not
want to perform the concert this evening.
9. The schoolboy said the teacher’s proof about the aggressive child had distressed the
class at school last week.
10. The girl who the policeman concluded that the nasty boy had frightened has stopped
going to school.
11. The coach who the manager’s decision about the violent footballer had annoyed will
cancel the match next week.
12. The politician thought the minister stated that the TV journalist had upset the
president on the talk show.
13. The chef who the cook argued that the head waitress had bothered wants to find a
14. The director said the agent’s suggestion about the unpleasant dancer had
disappointed the other members of the ballet.
15. The film star said the interviewer suggested that the horrible photographer had
embarrassed the editor of the newspaper.
16. The man who the customer’s thoughts about the shop assistant had amused was
trying not to laugh.
17. The therapist said the patient dreamed that the strange woman had fascinated the
members of the group.
18. The man who the detective’s conclusion about the dangerous thief had distressed will
buy a new alarm for his house.
19. The captain who the officer decided that the young soldier had displeased will
write a formal report next week.
20. The tourist believed the guide’s claim about the hotel manager had angered
everybody on the holiday.
Experimental sentences used in the self-paced reading experiment
1a The manager who the secretary claimed that the new salesman had pleased will raise
1b The manager who the secretary’s claim about the new salesman had pleased will raise
1c The manager thought the secretary claimed that the new salesman had pleased the
boss in the meeting.
1d The manager thought the secretary’s claim about the new salesman had pleased the
boss in the meeting.
2a The student who the headmaster thought that the clever teacher had surprised does
not like doing homework.
2b The student who the headmaster’s thoughts about the clever teacher had surprised
does not like doing homework.
2c The student believed the headmaster thought that the clever teacher had surprised
everybody at school last week.
2d The student believed the headmaster’s thoughts about the clever teacher had surprised
everybody at school last week.
3a The nurse who the doctor argued that the rude patient had angered is refusing to work
3b The nurse who the doctor’s argument about the rude patient had angered is refusing
to work late.
3c The nurse thought the doctor argued that the rude patient had angered the staff at the
3d The nurse thought the doctor’s argument about the rude patient had angered the staff
at the hospital.
4a The witness who the lawyer proved that the evil criminal had confused does not want
4b The witness who the lawyer’s proof about the evil criminal had confused does not
want to testify.
4c The witness said the lawyer proved that the evil criminal had confused the judge
during the trial.
4d The witness said the lawyer’s proof about the evil criminal had confused the judge
during the trial.
5a The actress who the journalist suggested that the talented writer had inspired will go
on stage tonight.
5b The actress who the journalist’s suggestion about the talented writer had inspired will
go on stage tonight.
5c The actress thought the journalist suggested that the talented writer had inspired
everybody with the new play.
5d The actress thought the journalist’s suggestion about the talented writer had inspired
everybody with the new play.
6a The customer who the receptionist stated that the lazy cleaner had annoyed will not
pay his bill.
6b The customer who the receptionist’s statement about the lazy cleaner had annoyed
will not pay his bill.
6c The customer thought the receptionist stated that the lazy cleaner had annoyed the
manager of the hotel.
6d The customer thought the receptionist’s statement about the lazy cleaner had annoyed
the manager of the hotel.
7a The farmer who the builder thought that the dedicated worker had amazed will give
everybody extra money.
7b The farmer who the builder’s thoughts about the dedicated worker had amazed will
give everybody extra money.
7c The farmer said the builder thought that the dedicated worker had amazed the new
boss last week.
7d The farmer said the builder’s thoughts about the dedicated worker had amazed the
new boss last week.
8a The singer who the musician stated that the drunken guitarist had offended will not
perform this evening.
8b The singer who the musician’s statement about the drunken guitarist had offended
will not perform this evening.
8c The singer thought the musician stated that the drunken guitarist had offended the
drummer after the performance.
8d The singer thought the musician’s statement about the drunken guitarist had offended
the drummer after the performance.
9a The schoolboy who the teacher proved that the aggressive child had distressed will
complain at the meeting.
9b The schoolboy who the teacher’s proof about the aggressive child had distressed will
complain at the meeting.
9c The schoolboy said the teacher proved that the aggressive child had distressed the
class at school yesterday.
9d The schoolboy said the teacher’s proof about the aggressive child had distressed the
class at school yesterday.
10a The girl who the policeman concluded that the nasty boy had frightened has stopped
going to school.
10b The girl who the policeman’s conclusion about the nasty boy had frightened has
stopped going to school.
10c The girl said the policeman concluded that the nasty boy had frightened the children
at the school.
10d The girl said the policeman’s conclusion about the nasty boy had frightened the
children at the school.
11a The coach who the manager decided that the violent footballer had annoyed will
cancel the match today.
11b The coach who the manager’s decision about the violent footballer had annoyed will
cancel the match today.
11c The coach said the manager decided that the violent footballer had annoyed his fans
at the match.
11d The coach said the manager’s decision about the violent footballer had annoyed his
fans at the match.
12a The politician who the minister stated that the TV journalist had upset will not give
12b The politician who the minister’s statement about the TV journalist had upset will not
give an interview.
12c The politician thought the minister stated that the TV journalist had upset the
president on the programme.
12d The politician thought the minister’s statement about the TV journalist had upset the
president on the programme.
13a The chef who the cook argued that the head waitress had bothered wants to find
13b The chef who the cook’s argument about the head waitress had bothered wants to
find another job.
13c The chef said the cook argued that the head waitress had bothered the manager of the
13d The chef said the cook’s argument about the head waitress had bothered the manager
of the restaurant.
14a The director who the agent suggested that the unpleasant dancer had disappointed
will cancel the performance tonight.
14b The director who the agent’s suggestion about the unpleasant dancer had
disappointed will cancel the performance tonight.
14c The director said the agent suggested that the unpleasant dancer had disappointed the
others in the ballet.
14d The director said the agent’s suggestion about the unpleasant dancer had disappointed
the others in the ballet.
15a The film star who the interviewer suggested that the horrible photographer had
embarrassed will not answer any questions.
15b The film star who the interviewer’s suggestion about the horrible photographer had
embarrassed will not answer any questions.
15c The film star said the interviewer suggested that the horrible photographer had
embarrassed the editor of the newspaper.
15d The film star said the interviewer’s suggestion about the horrible photographer had
embarrassed the editor of the newspaper.
16a The man who the customer thought that the shop assistant had amused was trying not
16b The man who the customer’s thoughts about the shop assistant had amused was
trying not to laugh.
16c The man believed the customer thought that the shop assistant had amused everybody
in the store yesterday.
16d The man believed the customer’s thoughts about the shop assistant had amused
everybody in the store yesterday.
17a The therapist who the patient dreamed that the strange woman had fascinated is
writing a new book.
17b The therapist who the patient’s dream about the strange woman had fascinated is
writing a new book.
17c The therapist said the patient dreamed that the strange woman had fascinated the
members of the group.
17d The therapist said the patient’s dream about the strange woman had fascinated the
members of the group.
18a The man who the detective concluded that the dangerous thief had distressed will buy
a new alarm.
18b The man who the detective’s conclusion about the dangerous thief had distressed will
buy a new alarm.
18c The man thought the detective concluded that the dangerous thief had distressed the
people in the neighbourhood.
18d The man thought the detective’s conclusion about the dangerous thief had distressed
the people in the neighbourhood.
19a The captain who the officer decided that the young soldier had displeased will write a
19b The captain who the officer’s decision about the young soldier had displeased will
write a formal report.
19c The captain said the officer decided that the young soldier had displeased the colonel
at training today.
19d The captain said the officer’s decision about the young soldier had displeased the
colonel at training today.
20a The tourist who the guide claimed that the hotel manager had angered wants to return
20b The tourist who the guide’s claim about the hotel manager had angered wants to
return home now.
20c The tourist believed the guide claimed that the hotel manager had angered everybody
in the holiday party.
20d The tourist believed the guide’s claim about the hotel manager had angered
everybody in the holiday party.
Table 1: Summary of the learners' bio-data
Age of First
Time Spent in
Mean (yrs)25.06 11.94 0.85
SD 3.92 2.17 1.38
Range 17-33 6-15 0.1-6
Japanese Mean (yrs)26.54 11.77 2.15
SD 4.21 0.91 1.58
Range 20-40 10-13 0.5-6.6
Mean (yrs)24 11.36 1.6
SD 6.22 1.87 1.09
Range 19-46 8-16 0.3-5
Mean (yrs) 24.80 8.67 2.48
SD 3.11 2.19 2.20
Range 20-37 5-13 0.1-8
Table 2: Learners’ Oxford Placement Test and Questionnaire scores
Table 3: Mean RTs (in milliseconds) per segment and condition
1 2 3 4 5 6
753 1069 825 1268 1075 1359
717 1507 833 1366 1307 1343
712 1195 729 1237 811 985
718 1099 657 1066 820 1073
1585 2665 1062 2155 1635 3065
1434 3227 814 2492 1838 2822
1723 2691 836 1963 1373 1876
1783 2329 857 1676 1551 1996
1547 2652 956 2053 1473 2994
1507 3052 1126 1972 1874 2859
1470 2512 955 1675 1314 1929
1590 2282 918 1643 1358 1833
844 1562 977 1628 1609 1599
845 1801 935 1351 1374 1343
958 1659 925 1196 959 1273
968 1533 753 1265 925 1214
851 1636 838 1757 1167 1786
909 2170 837 2022 1217 1682
1173 2015 875 1634 1004 1209
1288 2052 664 1417 945 1262
Endnotes Download full-text
1 The term 'subjacency' refers to the requirement that non-local movements must take
place in a series of small steps (Chomsky, 1973).
2 For reasons of space, and because the present paper focuses on sentence processing, we
will not review the extensive literature on the L2 acquisition of wh-movement and
subjacency here (for an overview of previous findings, see Chapter 7 of Hawkins,
3 The reason for using different cut-off points for the learners and for the native speaker
controls was that the learner's reading times were slower overall than those of the native