Prepositional Phrase Attachment Global Ambiguity Resolution in Semantically Biased and Neutral Conditions by L2 Learners

Hadi Maghsoud


This study investigated the prepositional phrase attachment preferences of Persian speaking second language learners
of English in dealing with globally ambiguous sentences. Results are reported from 34 participants across two
proficiency levels who took part in an online reading task and an offline reading task. In both tasks, the preferences
were examined in biased and neutral conditions; in the former the verb was semantically biased towards the DP
inside the PP (e.g. Peter killed the man with a gun) and in the latter condition there was no bias (e.g. Peter met the
man with a gun). The findings showed that in both online and offline reading tasks participants resolved the
ambiguity by attaching the ambiguous DP to the verb, being influenced by the semantic relationship between the two,
but in the neutral condition, the preferences were almost equal for both interpretations. The proficiency level did not
influence preferences except for a slight interaction effect in the offline reading task. The findings indicate that L2
learners of different proficiency levels rely on semantics rather than syntax in processing globally ambiguous
sentences. The findings of this study in the neutral condition, are in line with the unrestricted race model. However,
this model and the constraint-based theories fail to provide a proper explanation for the biased and neutral conditions
respectively. It is suggested that discrepancy between the assumptions of the constraint-based theories and the
unrestricted race model seems to be due to ignoring the role of semantic relationship between phrases in sentences
used for elicitation of parsing preferences; a factor that needs to be taken into account in future studies.

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International Journal of English Language Teaching     ISSN 2329-7913 (Print)   ISSN 2329-7921 (Online)

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