Project C4

1st Phase - Prosody and information structure as forms of 'input' in second language acquisition

Assuming that linguistic and cognitive universals provide the basis for language acquisition, our project investigates the hypothesis that focus and Information Structure (IS) can serve as mechanisms for early word learning. In particular, focus, the linguistic markers of IS, provides a local domain in which the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) can segment and represent grammatical properties of the word.

We will conduct five experimental studies of adult German (L1) learners of Dutch or English (L2), looking at the role of IS as a form of input to language acquisition. Our project will test the hypothesis that focused words are easier to learn than non-focused words, interacting in perhaps complex ways with the proficiency levels of our subjects and their varying ability to control in perception and sentence parsing the different kinds of grammatical knowledge they have acquired.

Study 1 will investigate the sensitivity of learners to the phonetic parameters of focus. Study 2 will investigate the acquisition of words which are prosodically marked for broad focus. Study 3 will extend these results by looking at the acquisition of words marked for narrow focus or topic. Study 4 will investigate the acquisition of new words which are syntactically marked for focus. Study 5 will examine the acquisition of new words which are in the scope of a lexical focus marker. Our subjects will perform a recognition task and we will collect both reaction time data and accuracy data. The data from the L2 stimuli will be compared to data collected from the same subjects with L1 German stimuli and to data collected from monolingual Anglophones. We expect to show that IS helps to structure the learning task by guiding the learner's attention to focus-marked parts of the sentence, which, in turn, leads to increased processing of the words in these locations. In addition, we hope to provide detail as to how focus facilitates the processing and representation of new words.

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Principal Investigators

  • Dr. Ruben van de Vijver

Former Staff Members

  • Anke Sennema


2006 Lecture Sennema, A., van de Vijver, R. & Zimmer-Stahl, A. Fremdsprachliche Verarbeitung von lexikalischer Fokusmarkierung. Lecture. Universität Konstanz, Germany.
2006 Lecture Sennema, A., van de Vijver, R. & Zimmer-Stahl, A. The effect of syntactic focus markers in second language processing. Conference. Universität Stuttgart, Jahrestreffen Phonetik und Phonologie (P&P3).
2006 Poster Sennema, A. , van de Vijver, R. & Zimmer-Stahl, A. The influence of focus markers on word processing and word recall in a second language. Conference. Potsdam, International Conference on Information Structure.
2005 Workshop Zimmer-Stahl, A. & van de Vijver, R. When voicing matters. Conference. Universität Utrecht, Workshop on models of L1 and L2 phonetics/phonology.
2005 Invited Talk Carroll, S. On focus accent in L2 segmentation and word learning. Invitation to Workshop. Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Workshop on Bilingualism: Grammatical representations and processes, part of the 17th Symposium on Theoretical and Applied Linguistics.
2004 Lecture Carroll, S. The role of focus in segmenting new words in a second language. Conference. Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore.
2003 Lecture Féry, C., Kügler, F. & van de Vijver, R. German Pitch Accents in Focus. Conference. Barcelona: the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences.