Presentations at ASHA and Psychonomics


Last week I presented my work at two conferences. At the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) annual convention in Philadelphia, I was part of a special session on Bilingual Sentence Processing organized by Henrike Blumenfeld. My talk was titled “Using two languages to understand anomalous sentences.” I discussed how bilinguals have a large linguistic “toolbox” containing what they know about both languages. This toolbox is brought to use when comprehending language, thus allowing bilinguals to interpret sentences using any grammatical tools at their disposal.

I also presented two posters at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, which was held in Boston. The first is also based on my dissertation data (pictured above), titled “Learning a second language influences first-language grammar processing.” Here I discuss how early and late bilinguals process sentences in their native language that are ungrammatical based on the native language grammar but grammatical in their second-language grammar. We are in the process of collecting data from Spanish and English monolinguals to use as comparison.

The other poster is a collaboration with colleagues at Brooklyn College and the Australian National University titled “A beneficial effect of orthography on native Spanish speakers’ ability to distinguish non-native phonemic contrasts.” This study looked at late bilinguals’ ability to distinguish four English phonemic contrasts (two consonantal, two vocalic) in pseudo-words with and without printed spellings. Their performance was also related to individual scores on an English decoding task and a second-language proficiency measure.

It was my first time attending ASHA and second time attending Psychonomics and they were both very interesting and stimulating environments. I’ve come home with a lot of research ideas, which I hope will develop into some interesting collaborations and lines of research.

Copies of the posters can be found on my ResearchGate and profiles.


UCR Postdoc Symposium

Last week the UC Riverside Postdoctoral Association hosted the 2016 UCR Postdoctoral Symposium. There were 12 talks from UCR postdocs in a variety of disciplines including Plant Sciences, Neuroscience, Electrical Engineering, and Comparative Literature, among others, as well as a poster session.

I gave a presentation called Bilingualism and its Consequences on the Native Language. The talk included a brief overview of some of the interesting recent research in the psychology of bilingualism and gave a short overview of my dissertation findings. I was blown away when they gave me an award for 2nd best presentation!

The event was a great opportunity to meet other postdocs on campus and see what kind of work is being done at UCR. I hope I can participate again next year!

IWLP conference in La Jolla


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

Moved to UC Riverside!


I just started a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Riverside! I’m working in the Psychology program with Judith Kroll and also with Deborah Burke at Pomona College to study language production in bilingual older adults. I’m very excited about all the projects going on in the lab and look forward to many interesting conversations and collaborations. More details to come!

Length of residence: Does it make a difference in older bilinguals?

The journal Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism has just published our article titled “Length of residence: Does it make a difference in older bilinguals?” as an Online-first article.

In this article we explore three factors that may affect second-language (L2) attainment: the length of time spent living in a country where the L2 is spoken, the age at which the L2 was first learned, and the age at which the person’s L2 skills are tested. The first two factors have often been studied in second language acquisition research, but the third variable (age at testing) is usually ignored. In this article we argue that there are important reasons to consider age a potentially important/influential factor given the research showing cognitive and language declines in older adults. We reviewed a set of studies that included length of residence as a potential factor in accounting for individual differences in L2 attainment. We divided the studies into those that included bilinguals who were all under the age of 55 and those that included some bilinguals over 55. Although there were only a small number of studies that included older adults, the findings suggest that when older adults are included in the sample, there is less chance that a positive effect of LOR on L2 attainment is found (in other words, longer LOR is not associated with better L2 performance). By contrast, studies that included only younger adults reported a positive effect of LOR more often than no effect of LOR. We suggest that detrimental effects of aging on language and cognition may be counteracting the positive effects of length of residence and that aging should not be overlooked as a potentially influential variable in studies of second language acquisition.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 10.54.38 AM

A pre-print version of the article can be found on my Research Gate profile here.

Abstract accepted at CNS!

Screen Shot 2016-01-25 at 5.46.46 PM

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.