Via two reading experiments, this exploratory study examined the effects of over-and under-specified linguistic input on L2 online processing of Chinese referring expressions (REs). In each experiment, a group of advanced L2 Chinese speakers (all with Uyghurs as L1) and a control group of native Chinese speakers read 48 sets of 4 sentence pairs with each set including one sentence pair containing referential underspecification (ambiguity) and one pair containing overspecification (redundancy). An analysis of the two groups’ reaction time (RT) using mixed-effects linear modelling reveals that underspecification had no effect on native Chinese speakers in both experiments, and overspecification also had no effect in the form of a redundant size noun modifier in Experiment 1 but showed a facilitating effect in the form of a color noun modifier in Experiment 2. In contrast, L2 Chinese speakers were significantly disrupted by underspecification in both experiments but not by overspecification. The results seem to support the hypothesis that L2 processing is constraint-based. Tentative research and pedagogical implications of the findings are discussed.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
Availability of Data and Materials
All the data and the material used in this study are available and will be provided upon request.
The native Chinese speaker participants in this experiment and Experiment 2 were recruited for this study specifically, i.e., they were not the participants in Wu and Ma’s (2020) study. In other words, the native Chinese speakers’ data were newly collected for this study.
Arts, A., Maes, A., Noordman, L. G. M., & Jansen, C. (2011). Overspecification facilitates object identification. Journal of Pragmatics, 43, 361–374.
Baayen, R. (2008). A Practical Introduction to Statistics Using R. Cambridge University Press.
Baayen, R. H., & Milin, P. (2010). Analyzing reaction times. International Journal of Psychological Research, 3, 1–27.
Barr, D. J., Levy, R., Scheepers, C., & Tily, H. J. (2013). Random effects structure for confirmatory hypothesis testing: Keep it maximal. Journal of Memory and Language, 68, 255–278.
Bates, D., Mächler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2015). Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67, 1–48.
Clahsen, H., & Felser, C. (2006). Grammatical processing in language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 3–41.
Clahsen, H., & Felser, C. (2017). Some notes on the Shallow Structure Hypothesis. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 40, 693–706.
Dekydtspotter, L., Schwartz, B. D., & Sprouse, R. A. (2006). The comparative fallacy in L2 processing research. In M. Grantham O’Brien, C. Shea, & J. Archibald (Eds.), Proceedings of the 8th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2006) (pp. 33–40). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press.
Engelhardt, P., Bailey, K., & Ferreira, F. (2006). Do speakers and listeners observe the Gricean of quantity? Journal of Memory and Language, 54, 554–573.
Engelhardt, P. E., Demiral, ŞB., & Ferreira, F. (2011). Over-specified referring expressions impair comprehension: An ERP study. Brain and Cognition, 77, 304–314.
Frazier, L., & Fodor, J. D. (1978). The sausage machine: A new two-stage parsing model. Cognition, 6, 291–325.
Frenck-Mestre, C. (2002). An on-line look at sentence processing in a second language. In R. Herrida & J. Altarriba (Eds.), Bilingual Sentence Processing (pp. 217–236). North-Holland.
Frenck-Mestre, C., & Pynte, J. (1997). Syntactic ambiguity resolution while reading in second and native languages. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 50A, 119–148.
Fukumura, K., & van Gompel, R. P. G. (2017). How do violations of Gricean s affect reading? Journal of Memory and Language, 95, 1–18.
Genç, G. (2016). Can ambiguity tolerance, success in reading, and gender predict the foreign language reading anxiety? Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 12, 135–151.
Grice, H. P. (1989). Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press.
Hewitt, E., & Stephenson, J. (2012). Foreign language anxiety and oral exam performance: A replication of Phillips’ MLJ study. The Modern Language Journal, 96, 170–189.
Huang, C.-T.J. (1984). On the distribution and reference of empty pronouns. Linguistic Inquiry, 15, 531–574.
Jackson, C. N. (2008). Proficiency level and the interaction of lexical and morphosyntactic information during L2 sentence processing. Language Learning, 58, 875–909.
Jiang, N. (2004). Morphological insensitivity in second language processing. Applied Psycholinguistics, 25, 603–634.
Jiang, N. (2018). Second language processing: An introduction. Routledge.
Jiang, N. (2021). Introduction. In N. Jiang (Ed.) Studies of bilingual processing presented to Kenneth I. Forster (Special Issue). Journal of Second Language Studies, 4, 201–203.
Juffs, A. (1998). Main verb vs. reduced relative clause ambiguity resolution in L2 sentence processing. Language Learning, 48, 107–147.
Luccioni, A., Benotti, L., & Landragin, F. (2015). Overspecified references: An experiment on lexical acquisition in a virtual environment. Computers in Human Behavior, 49, 94–101.
Luke, S. G. (2017). Evaluating significance in linear mixed-effects models in R. Behavior Research Methods, 49, 1494–1502.
Marefat, H., & Nushi, M. (2005). Syntactic ambiguity resolution: A case of L2 learners. Journal of Cognitive Science, 6, 55–71.
MacDonald, M. C. (1994). Probabilistic constraints and syntactic ambiguity resolution. Language and Cognitive Processes, 9, 157–201.
MacDonald, M. C., Pearlmutter, N. J., & Seidenberg, M. S. (1994). The lexical nature of syntactic ambiguity resolution. Psychological Review, 101, 676.
MacDonald, M. C., & Seidenberg, M. S. (2006). Constraint satisfaction accounts of lexical and sentence comprehension. In M. J. Traxler & M. A. Gernsbacher (Eds.), Handbook of psycholinguistics (2nd ed., pp. 581–611). Elsevier.
Marinis, T., Roberts, L., Felser, C., & Clahsen, H. (2005). Gaps in second language sentence processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 53–78.
McRae, K., Hare, M., & Tanenhaus, M. K. (2005). Meaning Through Syntax is insufficient to explain comprehension of sentences with reduced relative clauses: Comment on McKoon and Ratcliff (2003). Psychological Review, 112, 1022–1031.
Orhun, M., Tantug, A. C., & Adali, E. (2009). Rule based analysis of the Uyghur nouns. International Journal on Asian Language Processing, 19, 33–43.
Perfetti, C. A., & Harris, L. N. (2013). Universal reading processes are modulated by language and writing system. Language Learning and Development, 9, 296–316.
R Development Core Team. (2019). R: A Language and Environment for Statistical Computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria (http://www.R-project.org).
Rah, A., & Adone, D. (2010). Processing of the reduced relative clause versus main verb ambiguity in L2 learners at different proficiency levels. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 32, 79–109.
Roberts, L. (2012). Individual differences in second language sentence processing. Language Learning, 62, 172–188.
Schneider, W., Eschmann, A., & Zuccolotto, A. (2002). E-Prime reference guide. Pittsburgh, PA: Psychology Software Tools.
Tourtouri, E. N., Delogu, F., Sikos, L., & Crocker, M. W. (2019). Rational over-specification in visually-situated comprehension and production. Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science, 3, 175–202.
White, C. (1999). Expectations and emergent beliefs of self-instructed language learners. System, 27, 443–457.
Winter, B. (2019). Statistics for Linguists: An introduction using R. Routledge.
Witzel, J., & Witzel, N. (2021). Relative clause processing in L1 and L2 English: A maze task investigation. Journal of Second Language Studies, 4, 327–352.
Wu, S., & Ma, Z. (2020). How is Chinese reading affected by under-specification and over-specification? Evidence from self-paced reading experiments. Journal of Pragmatics, 155, 213–233.
Xu, J., Pan, J., & Yan, Y. (2016). Agglutinative language speech recognition using automatic allophone deriving. Chinese Journal of Electronics, 25, 328–333.
Shanghai Municipal Philosophy and Social Science Foundation (2019BYY022).
Conflict of interest
There is no conflict of interest involved in this study.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Wu, S., Liu, D. & Huang, S. The Effects of Over- and Under-Specified Linguistic Input on L2 Online Processing of Referring Expressions. J Psycholinguist Res 52, 283–305 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-022-09879-3