Online Processing of English Wh-Dependencies by Iranian EFL Learners

Document Type: Research Paper


1 Iran Language Institute, Yazd University

2 Yazd University


To be able to reach the level of ultimate attainment in the second language, learners need to acquire not only the grammar of the L2 but also the language processing mechanisms involved in the comprehension of sentences in real time. Contrary to its importance, very little is known yet about online L2 processing. This study examines whether advanced Iranian learners of English reactivate dislocated indirect objects at gap positions in accordance to the “trace reactivation hypothesis” (TRH) and also whether their individual working memory capacities play any role in antecedent priming in such processing. To this end, 44 participants were randomly selected for the study after being given the Oxford Placement Test. The participants were then given the reading-span test to check their working memory (WM) and were divided into 2 groups (low and high-span groups). A cross-modal priming task was conducted using the software package E-Prime Professional to record their reaction times (RTs). The data were analyzed quantitively and the results of 3 paired samples t tests showed that the learners differed from native speakers as they did not reactivate the antecedents at the gap position, indicating that foreign language learners resort to shallow parsing during L2 comprehension. Furthermore, a mixed ANOVA showed that the participants' performance was not influenced by their individual working memory differences unlike high-span native speakers.