Resumptive pronouns facilitate processing of long-distance relative clause dependencies in second language English

Fred Zenker, Bonnie D. Schwartz


This study provides evidence that resumptive pronouns (RPs) can facilitate the processing of long-distance subject relative clause (RC) dependencies during second language (L2) sentence comprehension, even where they are disallowed in both the first language (L1) and the target language. A test group of 29 L1-Korean L2 learners (L2ers) of English and a control group of 25 native English speakers completed an online self-paced reading task (SPRT) and an offline acceptability judgment task (AJT) designed to test whether RPs reflect Interlanguage grammar representations and/or a strategy to alleviate processing overload. Analysis of the SPRT data from both response times and comprehension question accuracy indicates that RPs assisted the L2ers, but not the native speakers, with dependency resolution in long-distance RCs. For the AJT data, a proficiency effect was observed whereby some lower-proficiency L2ers, but not the higher-proficiency ones or the native speakers, tended to prefer RPs over gaps in long-distance RCs. The implications of these findings and plans for future research are discussed.


second language acquisition; syntax; psycholinguistics; relative clauses; resumptive pronouns

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Copyright (c) 2021 Fred Zenker, Bonnie D. Schwartz

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