More than words: Multiword frequency effects in non-native speakers

Mireia Hernández*, Albert Costa, Inbal Arnon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Native speakers are sensitive to the frequencies of multiword phrases: they are faster to process higher frequency phrases, after controlling for all part frequencies (e.g. high: Don't have to worry vs. low: Don't have to wait). Here, we ask whether intermediate-advanced late (English) learners are also sensitive to the distributional properties of large language units: four-word combinations. Using a phrasal-decision task, we show that learners process multiword phrase frequency like natives do. This is not restricted to higher frequency phrases, but occurs across the frequency continuum: as natives, learners show multiword frequency effects even when comparing a lower frequency phrase to a higher (but still low) frequency phrase. In addition, we show that the effect is not modulated by the type of English exposure (immersion vs. classroom). These results indicate that late language users develop sensitivity to distributional properties of large language units at native-like level.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)785-800
Number of pages16
JournalLanguage, Cognition and Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2 Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Frequency
  • Learning setting
  • Lexical processing
  • Multiword
  • Second language


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