Doctoral Dissertation Research: The Role of Verb Bias on the Processing of Syntactically Ambiguous Sentences in Spanish-English Bilinguals

Project: Research project

Project Details


With National Science Foundation support, Ms. Tracy Cramer Scaltz will collect data for her doctoral dissertation under the direction of Dr. Paola (Giuli) Dussias. This research will examine how first and second language verbal information influences the way in which grammatical structure is built during sentence comprehension. Recent psycholinguistic research suggests that information associated with verbs varies between Spanish and English. This provides an optimal testbed to investigate whether Spanish-English bilinguals use verbal information specific to the language being processed at a particular point in time or whether there is cross-linguistic permeability between the two languages, such that information in one language affects processing in the other language. The idea of cross-linguistic permeability is relevant because there is compelling evidence that bilingual language comprehension involves the simultaneous activation of information related to both the first and second languages. At the word level, a cognate (words with the same meaning and similar orthographic-phonological form in a bilingual's two languages) facilitation effect has been found across lexical decision and word naming tasks with bilingual populations. At the sentential level, cross-language activation also persists when cognates are embedded in sentence contexts. Taken together, these findings suggest that the influence of first language verbal information during second language sentence processing may be more readily evident for cognates than for non-cognates. Ms. Cramer Scaltz's experiments will examine the performance of highly proficient Spanish-English bilinguals in two eye-tracking studies to determine the extent to which verbal information of cognates and non-cognates influences the ease or difficulty encountered during sentence comprehension. She will also investigate whether the increased lexical activation that cognates provide guides bilinguals to use first language verbal information during second language sentence processing. Bilingual participants will take a battery of proficiency tests and will complete a verb norming questionnaire in their second language to determine their knowledge of English verbal information. The bilinguals' performance on these tasks will be compared to monolingual controls. This research will provide new insights into how speakers exploit first and second verbal information and will pave the way for more detailed inquiry into how bilingual communities in the US and abroad can profit from recognizing knowledge about the similarities and differences between English and Spanish. The results will enrich the basic understanding of learning a second language, while providing useful information for teaching second language structural patterns to adult language learners. In addition, the project will increase the diversity of the pool of trained language researchers, while establishing opportunities for international collaboration between Hispanic scholars abroad and scholars in the US.

Effective start/end date7/1/076/30/10


  • National Science Foundation: $11,999.00


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