Nov. 12 | Jerry Packard: Limited Memory and Sentence Processing


Source: Institute of Linguistic Studies | Date: 2012/11/05
Speaker: Jerry Packard (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U.S.A.)
Date: November 12, 2012 - Monday
Time: 15:30
Venue: Room 606, Run Run Shaw Library, Hongkou Campus
Language: English
Event type: Public Lecture

Summary: This talk discusses the role of recency and working memory in Chinese L2 sentence processing. Our experiment asked whether L2 speakers process information better when it is located at the beginning or at the end of a sentence, whether such processing is related to L2 verbal working memory, and whether it is affected by grammatical complexity.

14 speakers of L2 Mandarin and 28 native Mandarin speakers made true-false responses to probes after reading sentences containing information located in phrases that were either far from (‘first-mention’) or close to (‘recent’) the post-sentence probe. The information was contained in either simple or complex grammatical structures. Mandarin verbal working memory was measured in both groups, and English verbal working memory was measured in the L2 group. The stimulus sentences were controlled for length and plausibility, and were randomly presented by computer. Participants’ response accuracy was recorded, and their eye movements were monitored by eyetracker.

We reasoned that if the position of information within a sentence affects L2 comprehension, then when participants process such information there will be a main effect for distance, with lower accuracy for reporting first-mentioned information located at the beginning of the sentence. We further reasoned that the distance effect would be larger in low memory participants if limited L2 verbal working memory is a factor. We also hypothesized that information should be reported less accurately when it is located in complex structures, and that information from complex structures should be more affected by distance than simple information.

In the L2 speakers we found significant main effects for distance (lower accuracy for far), memory (lower accuracy for low memory participants), and complexity (lower accuracy for complex structures). We also found that low memory group participants performed worse on simple information (and not complex information) when it was far vs. close. These response accuracy results were supported by the eyetracker data.

To explain these findings we propose that L2 sentence processing resources are limited, and that resource allocation is prioritized to handle immediate, incoming information. If a sentence contains both simple and complex information, when simple information is encountered first, it fades in memory as the complex information is subsequently encountered, because resources used to hold the simple information in memory are called to process the complex, incoming information. Our results suggest that the opposite is not the case: when complex information is encountered first, it is better held in memory as the simple information is encountered, because the simple incoming information calls for fewer processing resources. The resource allocation preference for incoming information explains why, although L2 participants perform worse on far and on complex information, it is within the simple information that the close-far performance contrast occurs.

Speaker Biography: Jerry Packard is Professor of Chinese, Linguistics and Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Professor Packard received his PhD in linguistics from Cornell University and specializes in Chinese word structure, Chinese psycholinguistics, and Chinese language learning. Professor Packard has performed research on Chinese aphasia and dyslexia, the first-language acquisition of Chinese, and the acquisition of Chinese as a second language. His current research interests include Chinese sentence processing, and how children in China learn to read and write. Dr. Packard is the author of numerous publications on the Chinese language, including New Approaches to Chinese Word Formation (1997), The Morphology of Chinese and Chinese Children’s Reading Acquisition (with W. Li and J. Gaffney). Dr. Packard is also a contributor to Huang, C. and Shi, D. (Eds.). The Cambridge Grammar of the Chinese Language, and Wang, W. S-Y. and Sun, C. (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Linguistics.






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