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Theres Grüter (PI) and Amy Schafer (co-PI) have received a three-year standard research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project entitled Discourse and prosody in non-native speakers’ reference resolution.
The project investigates how Japanese- and Korean-speaking learners of English choose and interpret referential expressions, such as pronouns. Pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’ are among the most frequently used words in English. Yet neither a dictionary nor a grammar book will satisfy a learner of English who is trying to understand their full meaning and use. Pronouns often occur in contexts that contain more than one possible referent. Native speakers accumulate knowledge of patterns in the language that shift the interpretive preference one way or another, and deftly integrate such information to unconsciously anticipate how a conversation is going to continue, thus building expectations about who will be referred to next even before a name or pronoun is heard. Yet what about non-native speakers?
Early evidence from this project indicates that even when learners have advanced knowledge of English grammar, they may have a reduced ability to generate expectations (R.A.G.E.) during language comprehension, resulting in interpretations and referential choices different from those of native speakers. Five experiments using offline and online (eye tracking) methodologies will further examine the possibility that critical differences between native and non-native language processing may lie at the level of expectation generation.