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Bilingual word and sentence processing: Electrophysiological investigations.

Saturday, October 01st,   2011 [14:20 - 16:00]

SY_15. Bilingual word and sentence processing: Electrophysiological investigations

Tokowicz, N. 1 & van Hell, J. 2

1 Department of Psychology and Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
2 Department of Psychology and Center for Language Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

A great deal of research is concerned with the extent to which second language (L2) learners and bilinguals process L2 in a way that is similar to native speakers. In this area of research, electrophysiological methods such as event-related brain potentials (ERPs) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) are being used increasingly more often, partly owing to the observation that such methods are sometimes more sensitive to detecting L2 knowledge than behavioral methods. This symposium brings together five presentations involving research examining second language processing. The symposium focuses on word and sentence processing, and includes a wide range of languages (Arabic, Basque, Dutch, English, French, Spanish, and Swedish), methodologies (ERP, MEG, self-paced reading, grammaticality judgments, eye tracking, and recall), and proficiency levels (ranging from beginning L2 learners in a training study to highly proficient bilinguals). The findings from this broad range of studies form a springboard to pinpoint the similarities and differences in bilingual processing and to establish parameters for future research. Specifically, Davidson reports MEG data suggesting that first language (L1) and L2 subsequent memory have distinct neural features. Midgley et al. report ERP data showing that switching into L1 has a greater effect than switching into L2. Tokowicz et al. report data from several studies showing that cross-language similarity affects L2 morphosyntactic processing using converging methods (ERP, self-paced reading, and eye tracking). Brenders et al. report ERP data showing that child beginning L2 learners are sensitive to violations of morphosyntax even when their behavioral data do not display sensitivity. Rossi et al. provide ERP data demonstrating that L2 learners are sensitive to violations of number but not gender. In all, these studies show that L1 and L2 are sometimes processed similarly and sometimes differently, and delineate factors that may determine when processing is likely to be similar.



SY_15.1 - Electrophysiological characteristics of encoding and retrieval for second language vocabulary

Davidson, D.

Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language, Donostia, Spain

The subsequent memory paradigm has been used extensively in lexical memory research to examine how the electrophysiological features of encoding and retrieval practice are related to subsequent recall, but the characteristics of this process are not yet clear for learners of a second language (L2). We examined the paired-associate learning of Spanish-Basque translation pairs in a subsequent memory paradigm using magnetoencephalography. Native Spanish-speaking participants (n=18) heard noun pairs presented as a list in an encoding phase, followed by retrieval practice in an explicit cued recall phase. This encoding-retrieval procedure was repeated four times per list. The results showed that recall for the words in the pairs improved with retrieval practice, as expected. A sensor-level analysis of the mid-latency (400-700 ms) evoked activity to the probe word in the recall phase showed a larger amplitude response to later-forgotten, compared to later-remembered probes, akin to a subsequent forgetting effect. In addition, the amplitude of the response to the Spanish words was greater than that of the Basque words. The results suggest that the electrophysiological characteristics of L2 subsequent memory are distinct from classical subsequent memory effects, which has been observed mainly in response to native language stimuli.

SY_15.2 - Auditory language switching effects in second language learners

Midgley, K. 1, 2 , Holcomb, P. J. 1 & Grainger, J. 1, 2

1 Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA
2 Centre National de la Recherhce Scientifique, Université de Provence, Marseille, France

Whether in production or comprehension, bilinguals can and do freely switch between their two languages. What are the processing costs and underlying neural mechanisms associated with these language switches? We investigated this by presenting, in the auditory modality, common, single-word non-cognates in English and French to 24 native French speakers who were learning English at university. Critical items were either “switch” items, for which the language differed from the two previously-presented words (CLAVIER - POMME - BEACH) or they were “non-switch” items, in which case the language remained the same across the previously-presented words (WINDOW - FIGHT - DRINK). Event-related potentials were recorded from 32 scalp electrodes to each critical, final item (BEACH compared to DRINK). Consistent with previous research by our group we found a widespread language effect with larger negativities to words in L1 relative to L2 in an extended epoch starting at 150ms and continuing 600ms. As concerns language switching L1 items showed early effects of switching between 150 and 250ms with switch items producing more negative-going ERPs over left posterior regions than non-switch items. There were also later effects of language switching that were more widespread across the scalp and appeared to be centered on the classic N400 (switch items again more negative than non-switch). No effects of switching were found for L2 items. These results appear to be consistent with theories postulating a greater inhibition of the dominant L1 during L2 processing followed by a need for greater reactivation of L1 after a switch. The findings will be discussed within the framework of current models of bilingual language control.

SY_15.3 - Second language morphosyntactic processing: Evidence from eye tracking, self-paced reading, grammaticality judgments, and event-related potentials

Tokowicz, N. , Tolentino, L. , Warren, T. & Tuninetti, A.

Department of Psychology and Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

In five experiments using converging methodologies, we examined the extent to which adult beginning learners of a second language (L2) are sensitive to violations of L2 (morpho)syntax. We examine this issue with respect to first language (L1)-L2 similarity under the Competition Model framework (e.g., MacWhinney, 2005). Constructions: (a) were formed similarly in L1 and L2; (b) were formed differently in L1 and L2 such that the relevant cues differed in the two languages; and (c) existed only in L2. In experiments 1-3, native English speakers in the beginning stages of learning Spanish as adults were tested using self-paced reading, event-related brain potentials (ERPs), and grammaticality judgments. The overall pattern of results suggests that beginning adult learners are sensitive to violations of constructions formed similarly in the two languages. The results for constructions formed differently in the two languages and that are unique to L2 are less consistent, with the different constructions demonstrating sensitivity in two experiments and the unique demonstrating sensitivity in only one. In Experiment 4, native English speakers were trained on the morphosyntax of Swedish to test whether particular instructional methods varying in their explicitness may be best suited to teaching similar, different, and unique constructions. Learners’ ERPs differed as a function of instructional training; an interaction between instructional group and L1-L2 similarity indicated that instruction methods that direct learners’ attention to critical aspects of input and provide rules may be particularly effective for instructing L2 features that are distinct from L1. In a fifth experiment, Arabic-English moderately-proficient bilinguals were presented violations of English syntax in constructions that were similar or different from Arabic while their eye movements were monitored using eyetracking. Preliminary results indicate that these bilinguals detect such violations very early in processing.

SY_15.4 - Morphosyntactic processing in a second language in novice learners and proficient bilinguals: Event-related potential and behavioral evidence

Brenders, P. 1, 2 , van Hell, J. 1, 3 & Dijkstra, T. 2

1 Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
2 Donders Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
3 Department of Psychology and Center for Language Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

This study examined morphosyntactic processing in the second language (L2) in beginning L2 learners and proficient bilinguals. In two behavioral experiments (using self-paced reading and a grammaticality judgment task) and an ERP experiment, Dutch beginning classroom learners of L2 English (6th graders) and adult proficient Dutch-English bilinguals were presented with L2 sentences that contained verb inflection violations (present and past tense verb inflection and present progressive), as well as their correct counterparts. The beginning L2 learners showed sensitivity to morphosyntactic violations in their ERPs (evidenced by (small) LAN or P600 effects), but did not (yet) show this sensitivity in the behavioral measurements (self-paced reading times and error rates in grammaticality judgment). The proficient bilinguals were sensitive to violations of verb inflections in L2 sentences on both behavioral and ERP measures. These results indicate that beginning child L2 learners show sensitivity to violations of L2 morphosyntactic structures in measures of brain activity, even when they do not yet display reliable sensitivity in their behavioral performance.

SY_15.5 - The processing of morpho-syntactic parameters in late English-Spanish bilinguals: Behavioral and neurophysiological signatures of L2 processing

Rossi, E. 1 , Dussias, P. 2 & Kroll, J. F. 1

1 Department of Psychology and Center for Language Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA
2 Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese and Center for Language Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

The successful processing of complex morphosyntactic parameters in adult second language (L2) learners has been shown to be influenced by age of acquisition (Steinhauer et al., 2008). More recent evidence, based on neurocognitive measures such as fMRI and ERPs, suggests that proficiency plays a role in modulating L2 language processing (Van Hell & Tokowicz, 2010). To investigate this issue we compared the performance in L1 speakers of Spanish and proficient late English-Spanish bilinguals. We utilized a specific morphosyntactic structure that differs between English and Spanish. Spanish object clitics appear before a finite verb and are marked for grammatical gender and number. English pronouns appear after the finite verb and mark number alone. In Experiment 1, we examined the on-line processing of Spanish clitics in 20 L1 Spanish, and in 20 English-Spanish bilinguals while clitics were presented in the correct and incorrect position. Results showed that L1 speakers demonstrated sensitivity to a violation of clitic placement by producing longer RTs at the incorrect clitic site and at the following word. L2 learners showed a similar effect at the clitic site but no spillover effect. In Experiment 2 we investigated the neurophysiological bases of clitic processing using ERPs. Participants (16 L1 Spanish and 14 English-Spanish bilinguals) read sentences in which clitics varied in correctness for gender, number, or both. Results revealed that native speakers showed a larger positivity in the 500-700 ms window for gender and number violations, whereas L2 speakers show a larger positivity specifically for number violations. Taken together, the results suggest that there are not hard constraints that prevent late bilinguals from accessing grammatical information in the L2. Rather, the cognitive load imposed by the L2 may constrain the ability to use that information predictively and may also modulate the signature of language processing at the neurophysiological level.

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