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Second language processing and the access question

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  1. Abstract.
  2. The access question.
  3. Processing.
    1. The Shallow Structure Hypothesis.
  4. Conclusion.

The rest of the paper will be spent expositing and, when necessary, critiquing, some of the literature on second language processing. I will pay particular attention to the recent Shallow Structure Hypothesis (SSH), due to Clahsen and Felser. In contrast to squabbles about the vague notion of access, the SSH provides a concrete, empirically backed interpretation of second language processing. The theory has the potential to shed substantive light on the workings of second language. It goes to show, by contrast, that the access question can at best be considered a secondary concern.

[...] The article substantiates the existence of language specific module, and thus lends legitimacy to the access question. Might we then expect the access question to revolve around evidence from cognitive neuroscience? We might, but we would be mistaken: if the work of Epstein et al. (1996) is any indication, output data are the guiding lights in the access debate. Obviously, this should raise some concerns. Moro et al's article, for example, raises the following issues: can non-language specific domains of the brain be used to learn foreign languages? [...]

[...] The results from filler-gap dependency tests starkly illustrates this point: whereas consideration of output data and grammaticality judgments would indicate access to UG in this respect, a detailed look at speaker processing goes to show that fundamentally different operations are at work Conclusion On reflection, perhaps I should amend my initial statements: this paper does not quite show that the access question is substantively void, or that it is unanswerable. What this paper does make clear is that the access question is a broad one. [...]

[...] Furthermore, the L2 learners did not show an attachment preference in their second language even when the same type of attachment preference was present in their L1, thus indicating an absence of transfer effects. In contrast, other studies prove that L2 learners are sensitive to one type of attachment when a thematic (i.e., lexical) preposition is present. The authors take this evidence to indicate that while L2 learners take cues from lexical information in resolving ambiguities, they not guided by phrase structure based parsing principles of the kind that have been attested in L1 processing? (19). [...]

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