Journal of Cultural Cognitive Science

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 235–255 | Cite as

Language history attenuates syntactic prediction in L1 processing

  • Michael C. SternEmail author
  • Christen N. MadsenII.
  • LeeAnn M. Stover
  • Cass Lowry
  • Gita Martohardjono
Research Paper


An eye-tracking experiment in the Visual World Paradigm was conducted to examine the effects of language history on the predictive parsing of sentences containing relative clauses in the first-learned language of fluent bilingual adults. We compared heritage speakers of Spanish (HSs)—who had spent most of their lives immersed in an English-dominant society—to Spanish–English late bilinguals (LBs), who did not begin immersion in an English-dominant society until adulthood. Consistent with studies of monolinguals, the LBs demonstrated a subject/object relative clause processing asymmetry, i.e. a processing advantage during subject relative clauses and a processing disadvantage during object relative clauses. This suggests that the LBs actively predicted the syntactic structure of subject relative clauses, consistent with the active filler hypothesis. The HSs, on the other hand, did not exhibit this processing asymmetry, suggesting less active prediction. We conclude, therefore, that decreased exposure to the first-learned language causes less active prediction in first-language processing, which causes both disadvantages, and interestingly, advantages, in processing speed.


Bilingual processing Relative clause processing Active filler Prediction Visual world paradigm Language dominance 



The authors would like to thank our study participants, Richard G. Schwartz, and Second Language Acquisition Lab research assistants Daniela Castillo, Omar Ortiz, Christina Dadurian, Andrea Monge, Matthew Stuck, and Armando Tapia.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, Michael C. Stern states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Linguistics ProgramThe Graduate Center, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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