Taking the pulse of eye-movement research: Special issue of Studies in Second Language Acquisition
Posted on behalf of Aline Godfroid, Paula Winke and Susan Gass
Understanding how languages are learned involves investigating the cognitive processes that underlie acquisition. Many methodologies have been used over the years to comprehend these processes, but one of recent prominence is eye-movement recording, colloquially referred to as eye-tracking. Eye-tracking consists of the registration, in real time, of what an individual looks at and for how long. Thus, eye-trackers provide information about the duration and location of an individual’s eye movements on a computer screen as he or she reads text or listens to audio. Because eye-tracking is still a relatively novel technique in research on adult second language learning, we put together a thematic issue on this topic. The special issue brings together an international group of eye-tracking experts who use eye-movement data to study a variety of language-related questions. The issue also contains important methodological recommendations for colleagues who are interested in using eye-trackers for their own research.
Following an introductory chapter by Leah Roberts and Anna Siyanova-Chanturia, we have organized the empirical articles in this volume into two broad categories: (a) the processing of verbs and verb parts (morphology) and (b) the processing of grammatical gender. Eva Van Assche, Wouter Duyck, and Marc Brysbaert report findings from an empirical study about the organization of the bilingual lexicon. They investigated whether bilingual speakers process cognates (e.g., English win – Dutch winnen) faster, even if the cognate words are embedded in a unilingual sentence context, which presumably constrains which language is to be activated in the brain. Nuria Sagarra and Nick Ellis investigated the effect of participants’ native language and second language proficiency on their second language processing strategies. They compared what linguistic cue (an adverb or a verb ending) learners of Spanish preferred, depending on whether their native language was, like Spanish, a morphologically rich language (i.e., Romanian) or, unlike Spanish, a morphologically poor language (i.e., English). Aline Godfroid and Maren Uggen examined whether beginning learners of German notice irregular features in German verbs during sentence reading and, if they do, whether this helps them reproduce the verbs correctly afterwards. Paula Winke studied the effects of underlining and printing grammatical constructions in a text in red—a technique known as input enhancement—on second language learners’ attention to and learning of these grammar forms. Whereas all other research in this volume concerns written sentence processing, Paola Dussias, Jorge Valdés Kroff, Rosa Guzzardo Tamargo, and Chip Gerfen used eye-tracking to investigate language learners’ use of grammatical gender in auditory sentence processing. Finally, Patti Spinner, Susan Gass, and Jennifer Behney took a step back and considered the technical constraints that eye-tracking imposes on reading research and what this means for the relationship between eye-tracking studies and natural reading. They make the point that as more and more researchers turn to eye-tracking technology, there is a need for published guidelines about what font size and font type to use and how to define regions of interest on the screen.
All in all, this special issue affords an opportunity to pause and evaluate how some applied linguists are utilizing this novel data-collection method. We hope that this volume will be viewed as an invitation to continue and expand this exciting new line of research.