[PS-1.45] L2 processing of complex noun phrases: Evidence of L1 parsing strategy transfer

Allen, S. . 1 , Fernandez, L. 1 , Elliott , M. 2 , Powers, H. 2 , Family, N. . 1 & Katsika , K. . 1

1 University of Kaiserslautern
2 Northeastern University

Complex noun phrases (CNPs) are phrases in which the head noun is modified by one or more word. CNPs that contain several words (e.g. pharmaceutical market size increase) are a hallmark of academic writing, but often require technical or insider knowledge to understand[1,2]. Offline research has found that CNPs can cause processing difficulties that manifest in paraphrasing[2,3], definition recognition[4], and L2 translation[5] compared to their simpler counterparts (e.g. an increase in the size of the pharmaceutical market). Interestingly, not all languages use CNPs; in languages like Spanish and Portuguese, connectors are used to join the elements of the phrase.
We investigated the processing of CNPs in English academic writing using eye tracking while reading. We compared the processing of these structures by L2 readers whose L1 have CNPs (German) or do not (Spanish/Portuguese). We found that CNP structures were more difficult to process than PP variants and, critically, we found evidence of L1 parsing strategy transfer: participants with no CNPs in their L1 were slower to process NP constructions than those with CNPs in their L1. We discuss implications for theories of discourse expectations, L2 processing, and cross-linguistic influence.