Date of Degree

9-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Linguistics

Advisor

Gita Martohardjono

Subject Categories

Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics | Syntax

Keywords

Heritage speakers, bilingualism, relative clause processing, language dominance

Abstract

Traditionally, heritage speakers are recognized as a heterogeneous group whose skills in their heritage language are unlike those of monolinguals or L2 learners of that language. Indeed, much evidence confirms the cognitive and linguistic uniqueness of this population. However, highly proficient heritage speakers may pattern more similarly to another bilingual population than typically assumed: first-generation late bilinguals.

The present study examines group-level processing differences between Spanish heritage speakers and Spanish-English late bilinguals in English, the second-learned and current societal majority language of these populations. Dominance is also analyzed as a possible effect of group processing differences, since traditionally and definitionally it is a main factor in distinguishing these two bilingual groups.

The robustly-attested processing asymmetry between subject-relative clauses and object-relative clauses is examined utilizing eye-tracking in the visual world paradigm to analyze bilingual processing in this study. Processing is measured through gaze fixation, and language dominance is operationalized using a novel relative fluency (RF) index. Results support that (1) These two populations do not pattern differently from each other in their accuracy, response time, or target fixation proportions throughout either RC condition, (2) Both groups are only showing mild evidence for a subject/object processing asymmetry, and (3) There are group differences in language dominance, but dominance has no main effect on gaze fixation.

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