Previous studies suggest that simple sentence structures, such as basic word order, are relatively unaffected by early language deprivation. Still, we do not know whether late L1 learners actually make use of abstract linguistic structures when interpreting mono-clausal sentences with basic word order, as they may use alternative methods, such as lexical, thematic, or world knowledge, to achieve native-like performance without relying on the abstract word order rules.
This ongoing project uses a sentence-picture matching experiment to explicitly test how deaf individuals with early language deprivation interpret simple subject-verb-object (SVO) sentences in American Sign Language (ASL). We have 4 types of target sentence conditions, contrasting in event probability and noun animacy. If late L1 learners always follow the canonical word order to interpret sentence meaning, we expect them to perform well across all conditions. Instead, if they rely on alternative strategies, we expect them to perform worse, especially with the improbable sentence conditions.