Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Slabakova, Roumyana

Second Advisor

Kempchinsky, Paula

First Committee Member

Farmer, Thomas A

Second Committee Member

López, Luis

Third Committee Member

Shea, Christine


It has long been theorized that, after the so-called critical period has passed, acquiring language becomes a more difficult enterprise. While general differences between adult second language (L2) learners and normally developed child (L1) acquirers have been more or less empirically established, a strand of recent L2 accounts have focused on the specific locus of these differences. The main goal of this dissertation project is to test the predictions of one such account: Clahsen and Felser's Shallow Structure Hypothesis (SSH; Clahsen & Felser 2006a, 2006b). The SSH places emphasis on the empirical testing of native/non-native language processing asymmetries, which are argued to be due to less detailed L2 grammatical representations. This dissertation tests the predictions of the SSH using a long-distance dependency: Clitic Left Dislocation (CLLD) in L2 Spanish. The study includes on-line and an off-line tasks, which were completed by a control group of native speakers of Spanish and an experimental group constituted by L2 learners of Spanish whose first language was English.

In view of the well-known fact that L2 learning outcomes vary widely across individuals, a secondary goal of this dissertation project is to determine whether variability in individual learning abilities, such as inhibitory control and statistical learning predicts variability in L2 learning. Part of L2 learning involves detecting the probabilistic patterns of a language (Saffran, Aslin, & Newport, 1996), such that individuals who are better pattern learners may be better able to learn the structural regularities of the L2 input.

Results were analyzed in order to determine whether the predictions of the SSH could account for the patterns present in the data. These results suggest that although the acquisition of long-distance dependencies is a protracted process, both intermediate and advanced L2 learners of Spanish could anticipate (predict) a syntactic element based in previously occurring cues. Thus, these results fail to support the predictions of the SSH. In terms of individual differences, overall, neither statistical learning nor inhibitory control appear to modulate the on-line processing of this particular long-distance dependency in Spanish.


clitics, long-distance dependencies, Second language acquisition, sentence processing, Spanish, syntax-discourse


xv, 198 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 177-198).


Copyright 2014 Tania L. Leal