Prosody helps L1 speakers but confuses L2 learners: Influence of L+H* pitch accent on referential ambiguity resolution

Author(s): Chie Nakamura, Manabu Arai, Yuki Hirose and Suzanne Flynn


Numerous studies have reported an effect of prosodic information on initial parsing decision. However, whether prosody functions in the same way in adult second language (L2) sentence processing is not known. In visual world eye-tracking experiments, we investigated the influences of contrastive intonation and visual context on processing locally ambiguous sentences with L1 speakers (native English speakers) and L2 learners (Japanese adult learners of English). Our results showed that referential visual context alone helped both L1 speakers and L2 learners to correctly analyze the sentence structure. Interestingly, however, the results also revealed that contrastive intonation accompanied by referential visual context facilitated the correct interpretation with L1 speakers but misled L2 learners “down a garden path”. L2 learners did not interpret the contrastive intonation as a cue that highlights a contrastive set in the visual scene. Instead, they interpreted the contrastive intonation as a simple emphasis and adopted the incorrect syntactic analysis.