Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Linguistics



First Advisor

Naoko O Witzel


This dissertation investigates the grammatical processing in a heritage language (HL), or the first language (L1) in a home or minority setting that has become a non-dominant language, and a more dominant second language (L2). Five experiments were conducted to examine (i) whether grammatical processing in L1 Vietnamese (Experiments 1 and 2) and L2 English (Experiments 3, 4, and 5) is different in Vietnamese HL speakers from those who are late Vietnamese-English bilinguals, and, if there is a difference, (ii) how it differs between these two types of bilingual speakers. In order to test the grammatical processing, morphological decomposition of L1 Vietnamese and L2 English compound words was observed. The two participant groups were presented with Vietnamese and English compound words as primes and one of the constituents of these compound words as targets. Four types of compound words were tested based on semantic transparency of the constituent-- (i) both constituents of the compound word have transparent meaning relationships to the meaning of the compound word, (ii) the first constituent has a transparent relationship but the second has an opaque relationship, (iii) the first constituent has an opaque relationship while the second has a transparent, and (iv) both constituents have opaque relationships. If both the HL speakers and L1-dominant speakers morphologically decomposed these compound words automatically, they would show faster reaction times when this constituent was preceded by a related compound word than when it was preceded by an unrelated one. However, if they were not able to morphologically decompose these words automatically, then the reaction times would not show any differences. The results from the conducted experiments in Vietnamese (Experiments 1 and 2) and in English (Experiments 3, 4, and 5) suggest that HL speakers and L1-dominant speakers trend towards grammatically processing morphologically complex words in L1 and in their L2 similarly.


Heritage language, Morphological decomposition, Compound words, Vietnamese, Bilingualism, Second language acquisition, Psycholinguistics


Linguistics | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington

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Linguistics Commons