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Automaticity of speech processing in early bilingual adults and children

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2019

Hia Datta*
Affiliation:
Molloy College
Arild Hestvik
Affiliation:
University of Delaware
Nancy Vidal
Affiliation:
Iona College
Carol Tessel
Affiliation:
Florida Atlantic University
Miwako Hisagi
Affiliation:
University of Connecticut
Marcin Wróblewski
Affiliation:
Pacific University Oregon
Valerie L. Shafer
Affiliation:
CUNY Graduate Center
*
Address for correspondence: Hia Datta, E-mail: hdatta@molloy.edu

Abstract

We examine whether early acquisition of a second language (L2) leads to native-like neural processing of phonemic contrasts that are absent in the L1. Four groups (adult and child monolingual speakers of English; adult and child early bilingual speakers of English and Spanish, exposed to both languages before 5 years of age) participated in a study comparing the English /ɪ/ - /ε/ contrast. Neural measures of automatic change detection (Mismatch Negativity, MMN) and attention (Processing Negativity, PN and Late Negativity, LN) were measured by varying whether participants tracked the stimulus stream or not. We observed no effect of bilingualism on the MMN, but adult bilinguals differed significantly from adult monolinguals on neural indices of attention. The child bilinguals were indistinguishable from their monolingual peers. This suggest that learning a L2 before five years of age leads to native-like phoneme discrimination, but bilinguals develop increased attentional sensitivity to speech sounds.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019

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