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Online processing of native and non-native phonemic contrasts in early bilinguals. There is considerable debate about whether bilinguals can distinguish L2 phonemic contrasts as efficiently as first language speakers can. To test this issue, a group of highly proficient Spanish-dominant Catalan-Spanish bilinguals (who had been exposed to Catalan between the ages of 3 and 4, but who, previous to this age, had been exposed only to Spanish) and another group of Catalan-dominant bilinguals (who had been exposed to Catalan from birth) were compared in a gating task. We developed a variation of the gating procedure that included a two-alternative forced choice test after each fragment was played. The differences between the two alternatives consisted of phonemic contrasts existing in Catalan but not in Spanish. Four contrasts were tested: two vocalic contrasts [symbols: see text] and two consonantal contrasts [symbols: see text]. The results showed that Spanish-dominant bilinguals, even the subset who were able to make correct identifications at the last gate, systematically performed worse than the group of Catalan-dominant bilinguals, needing longer portions of the signal to be able to correctly identify the stimuli. We argue that these results support the hypothesis that L1 shapes the perceptual system at early stages of development in such a way that it will determine the perception of non-native phonemic contrasts, even if there is extensive and early exposure to L2. C
Another word on parsing relative clauses: eyetracking evidence from Spanish and English. Ambiguity as to what the relative clause modifies in phrases such as Someone shot the maid of the actress who was divorced/Alguien disparó contra la criada de la actriz que estaba divorciada tends to be resolved differently in different languages (and in different forms of complex noun phrases). In English, there is a weak but seldom significant tendency for the relative clause to be taken as modifying the second noun phrase, the actress, but in Spanish, several researchers have found a significant preference for the relative clause's modifying the first noun phrase, la criada. The present experiments compare Spanish and English readers' eye movements while reading exactly comparable sentences in their native languages and find a significant reading time advantage in Spanish when it is forced to modify the first noun phrase, but in English when the relative clause is forced to modify the second noun phrase. Theoretical implications of the findings for previous explanations of the phenomenon are discussed.
Improving perception of letters and visual structure of language. Information about letters and the physical structure of language printed in Roman characters was given to children beginning to read. Experimental investigations coupled three alternative graphic modes of printing upper- and lower-case letters with an instructional intervention termed "Alpha-Beta" which provides practice in letter sorting, matching of letters, associative matching, and memory matching. In respect to graphics, Mode A letters were in standard alphabet form. Mode B provided standard letters with each backed by a unique half-tone (Visually Stippled Alphabet); Mode C provided standard letters with each backed by a unique visual texture (Visually Patterned Alphabet). Pre-posttest change in reading readiness was measured using the Metropolitan Readiness Test. In the first study 224 English-speaking 5- to 6-yr.-old children were tested. In the second there were 158 Spanish-speaking girls and boys 6 to 7 years old. It was predicted that Alpha-Beta intervention involving visually patterned alphabet would lead to the greatest increases in readiness scores. This is confirmed in both studies for children low in reading readiness preexperiment. Children high in reading readiness are less affected. The second experiment involved Spanish-speaking children and investigated intervention by Alpha-Beta against a no-intervention control. This confirms the value of Alpha-Beta per se. Possible explanations for the improvements are identified.