The processing of case in near-native Spanish

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This article reports a study that sought to determine whether non-native sentence comprehension can show sensitivity to two different types of Spanish case marking. Sensitivity to case violations was generally more robust with indirect objects in ditransitive constructions than with differential object marking of animate direct objects, even among native speakers of Spanish, which probably reflects linguistic differences in the two types of case. In addition, the overall outcome of two experiments shows that second language (L2) processing can integrate case information, but that, unlike with native processing, attention to a case marker may depend on the presence of a preverbal clitic as an additional cue to the types of postverbal arguments that might occur in a stimulus. Specifically, L2 readers showed no sensitivity to differential object marking with a in the absence of clitics in the first experiment, with stimuli such as Verónica visita al/el presidente todos los meses ‘Veronica visits the[ACC/NOM] president every month’, but the L2 readers in the second experiment showed native-like sensitivity to the same marker when the object it marked was doubled by the clitic lo, as in Verónica lo visita al/el presidente todos los meses. With indirect objects, on the other hand, sensitivity to case markers was native-like in both experiments, although indirect objects were also always doubled by the preverbal clitic le. The apparent first language / second language contrast suggests differences in processing strategy, whereby non-native processing of morphosyntax may rely more on the predictability of forms than does native processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-307
Number of pages27
JournalSecond Language Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 19 2015


  • Spanish
  • case
  • near-native
  • processing
  • self-paced reading

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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