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The Effect of L1-L2 Similarity in L2 Prediction: Evidence from Visual-World Eye-Tracking Study

Binger Lu1, Robert Hartsuiker1, Hang Wei2 

1Ghent University, 2Xi’an Jiaotong University

There is debate whether predictive processing in the second language (L2) of bilinguals is similar as in the first language (L1). Here we ask whether any such differences in predictive processes depend on the similarity of the L1 and L2. In a visual-world eye-tracking study, we compared both L1 and L2 prediction of Chinese-English (N=32) and Dutch-English (N=32) bilinguals. Dutch and English are typologically close (both belong to Western Germanic languages) whereas Chinese and English are typologically distant (Chinese is a Sino-Tibetan language). Each participant listened to highly constraining sentences like “Mary will read the book” or neutral sentences like “Mary will share the book” both in their L1 (Chinese or Dutch) and L2 (English) across blocks. In each trial, participants first had a preview of 4 pictures (e.g., book, dress, pineapple, and sandwich) displayed on the screen (for 2200ms) and then heard either a highly constraining sentence or a neutral sentence while their eye movements were being recorded. Preliminary data analyses showed that L1 and L2 prediction did occur in both Dutch-English and Chinese-English bilinguals, and more crucially, both groups of bilinguals showed similar patterns of predictive processing in their L2 English. Hence, similarity with L1 seems to play a minimal role in L2 predictive processing (at least at the lexico-semantic level).

Keywords: L2 prediction, Bilingualism, L1-L2 Similarity