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Using event-related potentials to track morphosyntactic development in second language learners: The processing of number and gender agreement in Spanish
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Swedish Language and Multilingualism, Centre for Research on Bilingualism.
Number of Authors: 32018 (English)In: PLoS ONE, ISSN 1932-6203, E-ISSN 1932-6203, Vol. 13, no 7, article id e0200791Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

We used event-related potentials to investigate morphosyntactic development in 78 adult English-speaking learners of Spanish as a second language (L2) across the proficiency spectrum. We examined how development is modulated by the similarity between the native language (L1) and the L2, by comparing number (a feature present in English) and gender agreement (novel feature). We also investigated how development is impacted by structural distance, manipulating the distance between the agreeing elements by probing both within-phrase (fruta muy jugosafruit(-FEM-SG) very juicy(-FEM-SG)) and across-phrase agreement (fresa es acida strawberry(-FEM-SG) is tart(-FEM-SG)). Regression analyses revealed that the learners' overall proficiency, as measured by a standardized test, predicted their accuracy with the target properties in the grammaticality judgment task (GJT), but did not predict P600 magnitude to the violations. However, a relationship emerged between immersion in Spanish-speaking countries and P600 magnitude for gender. Our results also revealed a correlation between accuracy in the GJT and P600 magnitude, suggesting that behavioral sensitivity to the target property predicts neurophysiological sensitivity. Subsequent group analyses revealed that the highest-proficiency learners showed equally robust P600 effects for number and gender. This group also elicited more positive waveforms for within- than across-phrase agreement overall, similar to the native controls. The lowest-proficiency learners showed a P600 for number overall, but no effects for gender. Unlike the highest-proficiency learners, they also showed no sensitivity to structural distance, suggesting that sensitivity to such linguistic factors develops over time. Overall, these results suggest an important role for proficiency in morphosyntactic development, although differences emerged between behavioral and electrophysiological measures. While L2 proficiency predicted behavioral sensitivity to agreement, development with respect to the neurocognitive mechanisms recruited in processing only emerged when comparing the two extremes of the proficiency spectrum. Importantly, while both L1-L2 similarity and hierarchical structure impact development, they do not constrain it.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018. Vol. 13, no 7, article id e0200791
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Languages and Literature
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URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-159045DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200791ISI: 000440006600016PubMedID: 30052686OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-159045DiVA, id: diva2:1244704
Available from: 2018-09-03 Created: 2018-09-03 Last updated: 2018-09-03Bibliographically approved

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