Last week I had a chance to attend the International Workshop on Language Production in La Jolla, CA. It was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a very cool space. I presented a poster on some findings from a bilingual naming study I did in New York. Native speakers of Brazilian Portuguese named pictures in their first language and then we assessed which pictures they also knew the English name for. The aim of the study was to assess whether second-language labels compete or interfere with word retrieval in the first language. What we found was the opposite: pictures were named faster if they were known in both English and Portuguese. More details can be found on the poster I presented: Higby_IWLP poster
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.
This weekend Alexandre Nikolaev and I will be heading to the AIMM3 conference (the American International Morphology Meeting) at UMass-Amherst to present our poster on stem allomorphy in Finnish.
A copy of our poster can be found on my Research Gate profile here.