The leading theories of sentence planning – Hierarchical Incrementality and Linear Incrementality – differ in their assumptions about the coordination of processes that map preverbal information onto language. Previous studies showed that, in native (L1) speakers, this coordination can vary with the ease of executing the message-level and sentence-level processes necessary to plan and produce an utterance. We report the first series of experiments to systematically examine how linguistic experience influences sentence planning in native (L1) speakers (i.e., speakers with life-long experience using the target language) and non-native (L2) speakers (i.e., speakers with less experience using the target language). In all experiments, speakers spontaneously generated one-sentence descriptions of simple events in Dutch (L1) and English (L2). Analyses of eye-movements across early and late time windows (pre- and post-400 ms) compared the extent of early message-level encoding and the onset of linguistic encoding. In Experiment 1, speakers were more likely to engage in extensive message-level encoding and to delay sentence-level encoding when using their L2. Experiments 2–4 selectively facilitated encoding of the preverbal message, encoding of the agent character (i.e., the first content word in active sentences), and encoding of the sentence verb (i.e., the second content word in active sentences) respectively. Experiment 2 showed that there is no delay in the onset of L2 linguistic encoding when speakers are familiar with the events. Experiments 3 and 4 showed that the delay in the onset of L2 linguistic encoding is not due to speakers delaying encoding of the agent, but due to a preference to encode information needed to select a suitable verb early in the formulation process. Overall, speakers prefer to temporally separate message-level from sentence-level encoding and to prioritize encoding of relational information when planning L2 sentences, consistent with Hierarchical Incrementality.
- Time-course of sentence formulation
- L2 sentence production
- Linguistic experience