Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7bb4899584-8flrd Total loading time: 0.866 Render date: 2023-01-26T22:51:53.813Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

10 - Electrophysiology of Semantic Violations and Lexical Ambiguity Resolution in Bilingual Sentence Processing

from Part IV - Neuroscience of Bilingual Lexical Access

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2019

Roberto R. Heredia
Texas A & M University
Anna B. Cieślicka
Texas A & M University
Get access


This chapter presents an overview of the current electrophysiological findings in the area of bilingual semantic processing. Apart from the discussion of semantic violations, it extends to topics such as lexical semantic anticipation, semantic ambiguity, meaning construction, and interlingual homograph processing. Specifically, the chapter focuses on the changes in amplitudes and latency of the N400 and the Late Positive Complex (LPC) by such participant characteristics as age of exposure, proficiency level, and language dominance. Special attention is devoted to how semantic constraints influence the processing of words in the L2 in sentence context as visible in modulations of the N400 and LPC components. Finally, neural oscillations are discussed, in particular the relationship between increases in theta oscillations and semantic processing in the L1 and L2.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Further Reading

Jessen, A., & Felser, C. (2018). Reanalysing object gaps during non-native sentence processing: Evidence from ERPs. Second Language Research, 35(2), 285300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Osterhout, L., McLaughlin, J., Kim, A., Greenwald, R., & Inoue, K. (2004). Sentences in the brain: Event-related potentials as real-time reflections of sentence comprehension and language learning. In Carreiras, M. & Clifton, C. Jr. (Eds.), The on-line study of sentence comprehension: Eyetracking, ERP, and beyond (pp. 271308). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
Peeters, D., Vanlangendonck, F., Rueschemeyer, S.-A., & Dijkstra, T. (2019). Activation of the language control network in bilingual visual word recognition. Cortex, 111, 6373.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
van Assche, E., Duyck, W., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2012). Bilingual word recognition in a sentence context. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 174.Google Scholar
van Assche, E., Duyck, W., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2016). Context effects in bilingual sentence processing: Task specificity. In Heredia, R. R., Altarriba, J., & Cieślicka, A. B. (Eds.), Methods in bilingual reading comprehension research (pp. 1131). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar


Ardal, S., Donald, M. W., Meuter, R., Muldrew, S., & Luce, M. (1990). Brain responses to semantic incongruity in bilinguals. Brain and Language, 39(2), 187205.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Arzouan, Y., Goldstein, A., & Faust, M. (2007). Brainwaves are stethoscopes: ERP correlates of novel metaphor comprehension. Brain Research, 1160, 6981.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bambini, V., Bertini, C., Schaeken, W., Stella, A., & Di Russo, F. (2016). Disentangling metaphor from context: An ERP study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bambini, V., Canal, P., Resta, D., & Grimaldi, M. (2019). Time course and neurophysiological underpinnings of metaphor in literary context. Discourse Processes, 56(1), 7797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bastiaansen, M. C., & Hagoort, P. (2006). Oscillatory neuronal dynamics during language comprehension. Progress in Brain Research, 159, 179196.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bastiaansen, M. C., Linden, M. V. D., Keurs, M. T., Dijkstra, T., & Hagoort, P. (2005). Theta responses are involved in lexical: Semantic retrieval during language processing. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17(3), 530541.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bastiaansen, M. C., Oostenveld, R., Jensen, O., & Hagoort, P. (2008). I see what you mean: Theta power increases are involved in the retrieval of lexical semantic information. Brain and Language, 106(1), 1528.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bastiaansen, M. C., van Berkum, J. J., & Hagoort, P. (2002). Event-related theta power increases in the human EEG during online sentence processing. Neuroscience Letters, 323(1), 1316.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bentin, S., McCarthy, G., & Wood, C. C. (1985). Event-related potentials, lexical decision and semantic priming. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 60(4), 343355. ScholarPubMed
Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, I., & Schlesewsky, M. (2008). An alternative perspective on “semantic P600” effects in language comprehension. Brain Research Reviews, 59(1), 5573.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Braunstein, V., Ischebeck, A., Brunner, C., Grabner, R. H., Stamenov, M., & Neuper, C. (2012). Investigating the influence of proficiency on semantic processing in bilinguals: An ERP and ERD/S analysis. Acta Neurobiologiae Experimentalis, 72(4), 421438.Google ScholarPubMed
Chen, H., Peng, X., & Zhao, Y. (2013). An ERP study on metaphor comprehension in the bilingual brain. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 36(4), 505517. Scholar
Coulson, S., & van Petten, C. (2002). Conceptual integration and metaphor: An event-related potential study. Memory and Cognition, 30(6), 958968.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davidson, D. J., & Indefrey, P. (2007). An inverse relation between event-related and time–frequency violation responses in sentence processing. Brain Research, 1158, 8192.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
De Bruijn, E. R., Dijkstra, T., Chwilla, D. J., & Schriefers, H. J. (2001). Language context effects on interlingual homograph recognition: evidence from event-related potentials and response times in semantic priming. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4(2), 155168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dijkstra, T., van Hell, J. G., & Brenders, P. (2015). Sentence context effects in bilingual word recognition: Cognate status, sentence language, and semantic constraint. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 18(4), 597613.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dijkstra, T., & van Heuven, W. J. (2002). The architecture of the bilingual word recognition system: From identification to decision. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 5(3), 175197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duñabeitia, J. A., Dimitropoulou, M., Dowens, M. G., Molinaro, N., & Martin, C. (2016). The electrophysiology of the bilingual brain. In Heredia, R. R., Altarriba, J., & Cieślicka, A. B. (Eds.), Methods in Bilingual Reading Comprehension Research (pp. 265312). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elston-Güttler, K. E., Gunter, T. C., & Kotz, S. A. (2005). Zooming into L2: Global language context and adjustment affect processing of interlingual homographs in sentences. Cognitive Brain Research, 25(1), 5770. ScholarPubMed
Elston-Güttler, K. E., Paulmann, S., & Kotz, S. A. (2005). Who’s in control? Proficiency and L1 influence on L2 processing. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17(10), 15931610.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fabbro, F. (2001). The bilingual brain: Cerebral representation of languages. Brain and Language, 79(2), 211222.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Foucart, A., Martin, C. D., Moreno, E. M., & Costa, A. (2014). Can bilinguals see it coming? Word anticipation in L2 sentence reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(5), 14611469. ScholarPubMed
Friederici, A. D., & Mecklinger, A. (1996). Syntactic parsing as revealed by brain responses: First-pass and second-pass parsing processes. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 25(1), 157176.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Goldstein, A., Arzouan, Y., & Faust, M. (2012). Killing a novel metaphor and reviving a dead one: ERP correlates of metaphor conventionalization. Brain and Language, 123(2), 137142.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hagoort, P., Brown, C., & Groothusen, J. (1993). The syntactic positive shift (SPS) as an ERP measure of syntactic processing. Language and Cognitive Processes, 8(4), 439483. Scholar
Hahne, A. (2001). What’s different in second-language processing? Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 30(3), 251266.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hahne, A., & Friederici, A. D. (2001). Processing a second language: Late learners’ comprehension mechanisms as revealed by event-related brain potentials. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4(2), 123141. Scholar
Hald, L. A., Bastiaansen, M. C., & Hagoort, P. (2006). EEG theta and gamma responses to semantic violations in online sentence processing. Brain and Language, 96(1), 90105.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hald, L. A., Steenbeek-Planting, E. G., & Hagoort, P. (2007). The interaction of discourse context and world knowledge in online sentence comprehension. Evidence from the N400. Brain Research, 1146, 210218.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jankowiak, K., & Rataj, K. (2017). The N400 as a window into lexico-semantic processing in bilingualism. Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics, 53(1), 119156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jankowiak, K., Rataj, K., & Naskręcki, R. (2017). To electrify bilingualism: Electrophysiological insights into bilingual metaphor comprehension. PLoS ONE, 12(4), e0175578.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jouravlev, O., & Jared, D. (2014). Reading Russian–English homographs in sentence contexts: Evidence from ERPs. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 17(1), 153168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kaan, E., Harris, A., Gibson, E., & Holcomb, P. (2000). The P600 as an index of syntactic integration difficulty. Language and Cognitive Processes, 15(2), 159201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kerkhofs, R., Dijkstra, T., Chwilla, D. J., & De Bruijn, E. R. (2006). Testing a model for bilingual semantic priming with interlingual homographs: RT and N400 effects. Brain Research, 1068(1), 170183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Khachatryan, E., Camarrone, F., Fias, W., & van Hulle, M. M. (2016). ERP response unveils effect of second language manipulation on first language processing. PLoS ONE, 11(11), e0167194.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kielar, A., Meltzer, J. A., Moreno, S., Alain, C., & Bialystok, E. (2014). Oscillatory responses to semantic and syntactic violations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26(12), 28402862. ScholarPubMed
Klimesch, W. (1999). EEG alpha and theta oscillations reflect cognitive and memory performance: A review and analysis. Brain Research Reviews, 29(23), 169195.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kutas, M., & Federmeier, K. D. (2011). Thirty years and counting: Finding meaning in the N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP). Annual Review of Psychology, 62(1), 621647. Scholar
Kutas, M., & Hillyard, S. A. (1980). Reading senseless sentences: Brain potentials reflect semantic incongruity. Science, 207(4427), 203205.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kutas, M., & Hillyard, S. A. (1984). Brain potentials during reading reflect word expectancy and semantic association. Nature, 307, 161. ScholarPubMed
Kutas, M., & Kluender, R. (1994). What is who violating? A reconsideration of linguistic violations in light of event-related brain potentials. In Heinze, H.-J., Münte, T. F., & Mangun, G. R. (Eds.), Cognitive electrophysiology (pp. 183210). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Martin, C. D., Thierry, G., Kuipers, J. R., Boutonnet, B., Foucart, A., & Costa, A. (2013). Bilinguals reading in their second language do not predict upcoming words as native readers do. Journal of Memory and Language, 69(4), 574588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moreno, E. M., & Kutas, M. (2005). Processing semantic anomalies in two languages: An electrophysiological exploration in both languages of Spanish–English bilinguals. Cognitive Brain Research, 22(2), 205220.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Moreno, E. M., Rodríguez-Fornells, A., & Laine, M. (2008). Event-related potentials (ERPs) in the study of bilingual language processing. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 21(6), 477508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moreno, S., Bialystok, E., Wodniecka, Z., & Alain, C. (2010). Conflict resolution in sentence processing by bilinguals. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 23(6), 564579.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Osterhout, L., Holcomb, P. J., & Swinney, D. A. (1994). Brain potentials elicited by garden-path sentences: Evidence of the application of verb information during parsing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20(4), 786803. ScholarPubMed
Perani, D., & Abutalebi, J. (2005). The neural basis of first and second language processing. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 15(2), 202206.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Proverbio, A. M., Čok, B., & Zani, A. (2002). Electrophysiological measures of language processing in bilinguals. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(7), 9941017.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rataj, K., Przekoracka-Krawczyk, A., & van der Lubbe, R. H. (2018). On understanding creative language: The late positive complex and novel metaphor comprehension. Brain Research, 1678, 231244.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rueckl, J. G., Paz-Alonso, P. M., Molfese, P. J., Kuo, W.-J., Bick, A., Frost, S. J., … & Duñabeitia, J. A. (2015). Universal brain signature of proficient reading: Evidence from four contrasting languages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(50), 1551015515.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schwartz, A. I., & Kroll, J. F. (2006). Bilingual lexical activation in sentence context. Journal of Memory and Language, 55(2), 197212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steinhauer, K., Drury, J. E., Portner, P., Walenski, M., & Ullman, M. T. (2010). Syntax, concepts, and logic in the temporal dynamics of language comprehension: Evidence from event-related potentials. Neuropsychologia, 48(6), 15251542. ScholarPubMed
van Herten, M., Kolk, H. H., & Chwilla, D. J. (2005). An ERP study of P600 effects elicited by semantic anomalies. Cognitive Brain Research, 22(2), 241255.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
van Heuven, W. J. B., & Dijkstra, T. (2010). Language comprehension in the bilingual brain: fMRI and ERP support for psycholinguistic models. Brain Research Reviews, 64(1), 104122. ScholarPubMed
Weber-Fox, C. M., & Neville, H. J. (1996). Maturational constraints on functional specializations for language processing: ERP and behavioral evidence in bilingual speakers. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 8(3), 231256.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wu, Y. J., & Thierry, G. (2010). Investigating bilingual processing: the neglected role of language processing contexts. Frontiers in Psychology, 1, 178.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cited by

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats