Second language speakers are often argued to differ substantially from native speakers concerning the processing of a language’s grammar. In this respect, many previous studies have found that second language speakers are largely incapable of early, preconscious types of grammar processing as visible in the lack of associated event-related potential (ERP) components (i.e., [early] left anterior negativities; [E]LAN). Early ERP components characteristically increase in response to grammatical anomalies in native speakers, indicating an automatic, preattentive processing of morphosyntax. Second language learners, in contrast, only show differential preattentive responses to incorrect morphosyntax at near-native proficiency or when there is a high degree of similarity between target and native language.

In this talk, I would like to relativize the idea that there are fundamental differences between native and non-native processing of grammar. I will present data on the acquisition of words with grammatical tone where early processing components emerged for non-violated inflected words within minutes of acquisition. On this basis, I will discuss the role of language similarity and transfer but, importantly, also the influence of processing capacity in second language grammar processing. On the one hand, the results showed that the more similar the native and non-native language, the faster and more automatic the initial L2 processing. Yet, processing type did not strongly affect learning outcome. On the other hand, the results suggested that the general discussion of grammar processing in second language learners might be obscured by the use of violations in L2 grammar processing studies. Together, I argue that L2 processing of morphosyntax might be more similar to L1 processing than commonly thought, at least for normal, non-violated language and when language similarity is high.


I am an international postdoc at the University of Copenhagen where I currently study the processing of Danish prosody by L1 and L2 speakers. I hold a PhD from Lund University which focussed on the electrophysiological and behavioural correlates of initial L2 learning.