The missing-VP effect in readers of English as a second language

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  • Tilburg University
  • Radboud Universiteit


English sentences with double center-embedded clauses are read faster when they are made ungrammatical by removing one of the required verb phrases. This phenomenon is known as the missing-VP effect. German and Dutch speakers do not experience the missing-VP effect when reading their native language, but they do when reading English as a second language (L2). We investigate whether the missing-VP effect when reading L2 English occurs in native Dutch speakers because their knowledge of English is similar to that of native English speakers (the high exposure account), or because of the difficulty of L2 reading (the low proficiency account). In an eye-tracking study, we compare the size of the missing-VP effect between native Dutch and native English participants, and across native Dutch participants with varying L2 English proficiency and exposure. Results provide evidence for both accounts, suggesting that both native-like knowledge of English and L2 reading difficulty play a role.

Bibliographic note

Funding Information: The work presented here was funded by NWO Gravitation Grant 024.001.006 to the Language in Interaction Consortium. We are thankful to Anna Aumeistere, Amy Gibbon, and Flóra Hatvani for their help with data collection and preprocessing, and to Sol Lago and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.


Original languageEnglish
JournalMemory and Cognition
Early online date16 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Apr 2021


  • Eye movements, Grammaticality, Relative clauses, Second language reading, Sentence processing