The time course of morphological processing in a second language

Harald Clahsen, Loay Balkhair, John-Sebastian Schutter , Ian Cunnings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report findings from psycholinguistic experiments investigating the detailed timing of processing morphologically complex words by proficient adult second (L2) language learners of English in comparison to adult native (L1) speakers of English. The first study employed the masked priming technique to investigate -ed forms with a group of advanced Arabic-speaking learners of English. The results replicate previously found L1/L2 differences in morphological priming, even though in the present experiment an extra temporal delay was offered after the presentation of the prime words.
The second study examined the timing of constraints against inflected forms inside derived words in English using the eye-movement monitoring technique and an additional acceptability judgment task with highly advanced Dutch L2 learners of English in comparison to adult L1 English controls. Whilst offline the L2 learners performed native-like, the eye-movement data showed that their online processing was not affected by the morphological constraint against regular plurals inside derived words in the same way as in native speakers. Taken together, these findings indicate that L2 learners are not just slower than native speakers in processing morphologically complex words, but that the L2 comprehension system employs real-time grammatical analysis (in this case, morphological information) less than the L1 system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7-31
Number of pages24
JournalSecond Language Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


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