The Role of Semantic Transparency in the Processing of Verb-particle Constructions by French-English Bilinguals


Verb-particle constructions (phrasal verbs) are a notoriously difficult aspect of English to acquire for second-language (L2) learners. This study was conducted to assess whether L2 English speakers would show sensitivity to the subtle semantic properties of these constructions, namely the gradations in semantic transparency of different verb-particle constructions (e.g., finish up vs. chew out). L1 French, L2 English bilingual participants completed an off-line (explicit) survey of similarity ratings, as well as an on-line (implicit) masked priming task. Bilinguals showed less agreement in their off-line ratings of semantic similarity, but their ratings were generally similar to those of monolinguals. On the masked priming task, the more proficient bilinguals showed a pattern of effects parallel to monolinguals, indicating similar sensitivity to semantic similarity at an implicit level. These findings suggest that the properties of verb-particle constructions can be both implicitly and explicitly grasped by L2 speakers whose L1 lacks phrasal verbs.

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