Our abstract, titled “The bilingual’s mental grammar system: Language-specific syntax is shared by both languages,” has been accepted as a poster presentation at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society annual meeting in New York in April! I really enjoy the CNS meetings and I’m looking forward to presenting there again this year.
The poster schedule is already up and I’m Poster E82, Monday, April 4, 1:30 – 3:30 pm.
Here’s the abstract for our poster. If you’re going to CNS, please stop by and say hello!
Research on syntactic processing in bilingualism suggests that similar syntactic constructions in the bilingual’s two languages have overlapping representations (e.g., Hartsuiker, Pickering, & Veltkamp, 2004). It is not known, however, whether language-specific constructions are also shared or whether they are tied to one language. In the current study, we investigated whether bilinguals can use syntactic structures from their second language to interpret novel (ungrammatical) sentences in the first language. The construction we used was the induced motion causative, grammatical in English but ungrammatical in Spanish (e.g., John ran the mouse around the maze; Juan corrió el raton por el laberinto). Electrophysiology (ERPs) and acceptability judgments were used to determine whether native Spanish speakers who know English can process these sentences by comparing the results to constructions that are ungrammatical in both languages (pseudo-causatives). If bilinguals only use their knowledge of Spanish syntax to interpret the sentences, responses for both conditions should consist of low acceptability judgments and an N400 effect, showing difficulty interpreting the sentences. Our preliminary data showed higher acceptability judgments for causatives (scale 1-5, m=3.19, sd=1.58) than pseudo-causatives (m=1.86, sd=1.33). In the ERPs, we observed an N400 for the pseudo-causatives (peak 454 ms, m=-2.15 μV, sd=1.70), but no N400 for causatives (m=0.34 μV, sd=1.69). This suggests that the bilinguals are carrying over knowledge of English syntax to interpret these never-before-heard sentences. We are testing more bilinguals and will compare their results to a group of Spanish monolinguals.