Perceptual Span

When fixating on a word during reading, information is ascertained about the word in the fovea (point of highest visual acuity) and the parafovea (words surrounding the focal point; Schotter et al., 2012); this combined area is the perceptual span. Importantly, parafoveal processing aids preprocessing of upcoming information, which can facilitate eye movements to upcoming words (Plummer et al., 2012). The amount of parafoveal area necessary to read normally is known as the perceptual span size, and is typically established using a gaze-contingent moving window paradigm (McConkie & Rayner, 1975). In this paradigm, a fixed window of text is available. This fixed window is contingent on the gaze of the participant: the area outside of the window is masked (typically replacing letters with X), and as the participant moves their eyes the masked characters are made available. The size of the perceptual span is determined by increasing the size of the available window until reading times do not differ from reading with no window present (i.e., normal reading).

Skilled native readers of alphabetic written languages have a perceptual span of 3-4 characters to the left of the foveal fixation and of 14-15 characters to the right (Rayner, 1998). The one study that has directly compared the perceptual span of native and L2 speakers using a gaze-contingent moving window paradigm found that Japanese L1 speakers (L2 English) had a perceptual span about 8 characters to the right when reading English, compared to 14 characters for native English speakers (Leung et al., 2014). However, this study does not take into account the influence of L1 reading direction in Japanese (which can be top to bottom or left to right), and may not generalize to all non-native speakers.  

In a series of perceptual span studies, we are testing whether there is an L1 influence on L2 perceptual span size. We investigate things like the influence of L1 reading direction and L1 script type, by comparing speakers of difference languages.  Additionally, we are interested in the influence of individual differences, such as the quality of lexical representation and proficiency, on L2 sentence processing.

Representative publications
Bothe, E.R., Kolesova, K., Allen, S.E.M, & Fernandez, L.B. (2018). Perceptual span during L2 reading of English and the influence of L1 reading direction: The case of Urdu and Hindi. Poster at International Interdisciplinary Symposium on Reading Experience and Analysis of Documents (READ), Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Fernandez, L.B., Bothe, R., & Allen, S.E.M. (2018). L1 reading direction plays a role in L2 perceptual span size: An eye tracking study investigating Urdu and Hindi speakers. Poster at Cognitive Neuroscience of Second and Artificial Language Learning Conference (CoNSALL), Bangor, UK.
Fernandez, L.B., Pire, N., & Allen, S.E.M. (2017). L2 perceptual span size and the role of L1 reading direction. Poster at International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech (ISMBS), Chania, Greece.
Fernandez, L.B., Pire, N., & Allen, S.E.M. (2017). The influence of L1 reading direction on L2 perceptual span size. Poster at International Workshop on Bilingualism vs. Monolingualism: A New Perspective on Limitations to L2 Acquisition, University of Toulouse 2, Toulouse, France.