University of Illinois at Chicago
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Morphosyntactic Development in a Second Language: An Eye-tracking Study on the Role of Attention

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posted on 2015-10-21, 00:00 authored by Bernard I. Issa
One common claim in second language (L2) acquisition research is that attention is crucial for development to occur. Although previous empirical research supports this claim, methodological approaches have not been able to directly measure attention. This thesis utilized eye-tracking to directly measure attention and thus provide converging evidence in support of previous research. Additionally, this study explored how the distinction between external and internal attentional mechanisms, as posited by cognitive psychology theory, may play out in L2 development. These mechanisms are aligned with attentional manipulations established through the L2 instructional interventions of input enhancement and structured input practice. How such manipulations affect attention and whether they lead to development were addressed by the following experimental design. Beginning learners of Spanish learned a novel target-form: direct-object pronouns—e.g., lo, (‘him’) in lo besa Maria ('Maria kisses him')—which represents the theme in the sentence. Practice consisted of two variations of a picture-sentence matching activity where participants had to choose which image (from a pair) best depicted a written sentence. The two variations were: an external condition, where sentences presented in the matching activity included the target-form in a different color, as in input enhancement, and an internal condition, where exposure to two initial pictures that differed only in relation to the direct object preceded the matching activity, as in structured input practice. Immediate and delayed interpretation tasks assessed In all conditions, participant attention will be operationalized using three measures of eye movement: (a) total time fixating the pronoun, (b) total number of fixations on the pronoun, and (c) skipping rate of the pronoun.L2 development. To assess effects of attention, eye-tracking measures recorded during the two conditions were compared to those recorded on control trials (with no manipulation of attention). For the external condition, attention was directed to the pronoun as participants skipped the pronoun less, and L2 development was found at the delayed interpretation task. For the internal condition, attention was directed to the pronoun as participants skipped the pronoun less and total time looking at the pronoun increased. Furthermore, L2 development was found at immediate and delayed interpretation tasks for this condition. Although both conditions appear to effectively manipulate attention, results suggest that different manipulations differentially affect attentional allocation, which may have implications for the amount of resulting L2 development.



Morgan-Short, Kara


Hispanic and Italian Studies

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

González-Vilbazo, Kay Williams, Jessica Raney, Gary Godfroid, Aline

Submitted date



  • en

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