Differences in the processing of attachment ambiguities between native English and bilingual Polish-English speakers

The issue The aim of my talk is to present the results of a self-paced reading (SPR) experiment, being a part of my MA thesis, on processing ambiguous English sentences by native English and bilingual Polish-English speakers. The question discussed in the talk will be what kind of similarities and differences there are in parsing such sentences between these two groups of speakers. Since there has not been much research done confronting Polish and English in this respect, the presentation will provide new data on this topic.

The experiment Twenty native English and twenty Polish-English speakers took part in this SPR study. The experimental material consisted of 150 sentences divided into two main types: relative clause attachment, e.g.,
1) Someone shot the servant of the actress who was on the balcony, and prepositional phrase attachment, e.g., 2) The boy hit the man with a gun. The sentences were displayed on a computer screen in a phrase-by-phrase fashion. After each sentence participants had to answer a question that reflected their attachment preferences; e.g., for sentence 1) Who was on the balcony?ß actress or servant à).
The results and discussion The experiment confronts the assumption based on previous findings that native speakers of English show a tendency for low attachment (to the second noun phrase) in globally ambiguous sentences, as opposed to native speakers of other, more inflected languages (French, Spanish and Greek), who seem to prefer high attachment (to the first noun phrase), which is said to be transferred from their native language processing strategies (Felser, Roberts & Marinis, 2003). Thus, previous studies strongly suggest that Polish-English bilinguals may also show a preference for the high attachment, due to Polish being a highly inflected language.

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