Although it is uncontroversial to state that a hallmark of second language (L2) acquisition is variability in performance, the factors that have been proposed to account for that variability are numerous. While some theoretical proposals emphasize linguistic factors, such as a consideration of the linguistic properties instantiated in the native language (L1) and the L2, other theories emphasize the individual-level abilities of the learners themselves. In this talk, I’ll review our recent research on the processing of agreement dependencies by low-proficiency learners, which suggests that both linguistic factors and certain individual-level cognitive abilities, such as working memory, account for variability in L2 processing. I will also review some of our recent work exploring variability in L1 processing, focusing on pronominal reference. I’ll argue that the individual differences that modulate processing in learners are similar to those that have been found to modulate processing in native speakers, suggesting at least some areas of qualitative similarity in L1 and L2 processing.


Alison Gabriele is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Kansas. She is also Director of the Second Language Acquisition lab. Her research examines the acquisition and processing of syntax and semantics by adult second language learners, focusing on the cognitive and linguistic factors that impact development and ultimate attainment. Her research program, which has been supported by the National Science Foundation, uses a range of experimental methods including behavioral, psycholinguistic, and electrophysiological measures.