Morphological prediction in native and nonnative comprehenders: A case of Russian verbal inflections

Chrabaszcz, A. .

Neurolinguistics Laboratory, Higher School of Economics

While the role of semantic prediction in language comprehension has received much attention (DeLong, 2009; Kutas et al., 2011), morphological prediction has been less explored (e.g., Van Berkum et al., 2005; Wicha et al., 2004). Specifically, this study examines how similar or dissimilar morphological prediction is in native versus nonnative speakers when they have to comprehend oral text for meaning. Oral comprehension in the nonnative language has been shown especially difficult (Hu, 2009), partly due to phonological difficulties.

Using the method of event-related potentials (ERP), this study compares brain response to morphologically predictable infinitive verb forms (n=90) versus unpredictable past-tense forms (phonologically easy, n=90) and unpredictable future-tense forms (phonologically difficult, n=90) by native (n=21) and nonnative (n=15) speakers of Russian.

For the native group, ERP waveforms time-locked to target words? uniqueness point reveal an increased positivity in the 100-600 ms latency window for both types of unpredictable compared to the predictable forms. In the nonnative group, an increased positivity is observed only for phonologically easy past-tense forms, but not for phonologically difficult future-tense forms. This finding suggests that, while nonnative comprehenders use morphological predictions during oral comprehension, their ERP response is modulated by phonological difficulty of the morphological form.