2015 Volume 17 Issue 1 Pages 1-13
By the use of the priming paradigm, this study attempted to reveal whether or not highly proficient Japanese learners of English as a foreign language (Japanese EFL Learners) possess implicit knowledge of the constraints on prenominal adjective orders. Recent studies on real-time sentence processing and implicit grammatical knowledge in a second language (L2) have focused in depth on the real-time utilization of syntactic and morphosyntactic information of a target language. However, the counterpart of semantic constraints such as the order of prenominal adjectives (a nice small pen vs. a small nice pen) has remained quite obscure. In the present study, thirty-two participants (sixteen native speakers for the control group, the others for the experimental group) engaged in different sentence-level priming experiments with the following conditions: (a) the primes with the preferred prenominal adjective orders and the stimuli with the same pattern (P-P), (b) the preferred primes and the violated stimuli (P-V), (c) the violated primes and the preferred stimuli (V-P), and (d) the violated primes and the stimuli with the same pattern (V-V). The results revealed that the Japanese EFL learners did not exhibit the priming effect or the effect of the order violations, unlike the control group. This suggests that the Japanese EFL learners were very insensitive to the violations of the semantic constraints, and thus their implicit knowledge of these constraints can be said to remain rudimentary; nevertheless their proficiency levels were high, at least in the Japanese EFL setting. The difficulty of learning about semantic constraints and some pedagogical implications were also discussed.