Associate Professor James Lee

Associate Professor (Spanish & Latin American Studies)
Associate Professor

I am an Associate Professor in Spanish and Latin American Studies and Deputy Head of the School of Languages and Linguistics.  I studied Romance and Hispanic Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, where I received a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics. I previously taught at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and at Indiana University in Bloomington.

My research examines instructed second language acquisition, in general, and the connections between input processing and comprehension.  Input processing refers to fact that the language to which learners are exposed contains linguistic forms.  The task facing learners to connect a form and its meaning using the limited and incomplete second language resources at their disposal. Beginning with my 2004 chapter, published by Erlbaum, I have taken a great interest in a type of processing strategy training called Processing Instruction.  The goal of the training is to have learners develop target-language appropriate processing strategies in order to help them make more and better connections between forms in the input and their meanings. The 2004 chapter is a critical assessment of the existing research. Importantly, based on my assessment I generated 11 hypotheses about the effects of Processing Instruction that have served to stimulate more research in the field. I have partnered with Alessandro Benati of the University of Greenwich and our research in this area has been extensive.

In our 2007 book, Delivering Processing Instruction in Virtual and Classroom Contexts, we established that Processing Instruction can be delivered equally well in classrooms to groups of learners and in language laboratories to individuals. My work on this book earned me the 2008 FASS Dean’s Award for Best Publication on the Scholarship of Learning and Teaching. Also in 2007, we published Second Language Processing, in which we established that input enhancement techniques do not increase the number of  form-meaning connections learners make from processing strategy training. 

Our 2008 book, Grammar Acquisition and Processing Instruction, added significantly to the theoretical model underpinning this research area. That is, we established that learners transfer their strategy training across different linguistic structures. Whereas I could effectively review the existing research in a chapter in 2004, Benati and I reviewed the field in a book in 2009, Research and Perspectives on Processing Instruction. Our most recent collaboration is Processing Instruction and Discourse. The theoretical model underpinning Processing Instruction is a model of sentence processing and strategy training proceeds at the sentence level. Our research examined the effects of processing instruction using discourse-level assessments. We found that learners consistently could utilize sentence-level training in interpreting and producing connected discourse.

I also have an ongoing interest in the second language acquisition of object pronouns in Spanish.  Object pronouns in Spanish occur in preverbal position with finite verbs. And, given the extent of Spanish verb morphology, the subject of the verb may not be realized on the surface or can occur in postverbal position. A well-established principle of input processing is that learners tend to assign agent status to the first noun or pronoun they encounter in an utterance. Even though object pronouns are case-marked in Spanish, learners consistently misassign the status of the pronoun. 

My 2003 chapter is a critical examination of the research on the acquisition of object pronouns by second language learners of Spanish.  Subsequently I began working with Paul Malovrh of the University of South Carolina. In our 2009 chapter we manipulated variables such as context, person, gender and number across various levels of learners as they processed sentences with object pronouns. We established that the correct processing of object pronouns begins with person, first then second and finally, after a protracted stage of development, third person.  We expanded our scope to include comparisons of processing and production in our 2010 chapter. We are currently preparing a book on processing and producing object pronouns for Mouton de Gruyter.



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