Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Individual differences reveal stages of L2 grammatical acquisition: ERP evidence*

  • DARREN TANNER (a1), JUDITH MCLAUGHLIN (a2), JULIA HERSCHENSOHN (a3) and LEE OSTERHOUT (a2)

Abstract

Here we report findings from a cross-sectional study of morphosyntactic processing in native German speakers and native English speakers enrolled in college-level German courses. Event-related brain potentials were recorded while participants read sentences that were either well-formed or violated German subject–verb agreement. Results showed that grammatical violations elicited large P600 effects in the native Germans and learners enrolled in third-year courses. Grand mean waveforms for learners enrolled in first-year courses showed a biphasic N400–P600 response. However, subsequent correlation analyses revealed that most individuals showed either an N400 or a P600, but not both, and that brain response type was associated with behavioral measures of grammatical sensitivity. These results support models of second language acquisition which implicate qualitative changes in the neural substrates of second language grammar processing associated with learning. Importantly, we show that new insights into L2 learning result when the cross-subject variability is treated as a source of evidence rather than a source of noise.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Darren Tanner, Pennsylvania State University, Center for Language Science, 4F Thomas Building, University Park, PA 16802, USAdstanner@gmail.com

Footnotes

Hide All
*

We would like to thank the participants, as well as members of the Cognitive Neuroscience of Language Lab at the University of Washington, including Missy Takahashi, Ilona Pitkänen, and Geoff Valentine for their help in collecting the data for this study. We would especially like to thank Kayo Inoue for valuable discussion and insights into individual variation. This research was supported by grant R01DC01947 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to Lee Osterhout. Portions of this manuscript were prepared while Darren Tanner was supported by a Neurolinguistics Dissertation Fellowship from the William Orr Dingwall Foundation and by NSF OISE-0968369. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers who provided thoughtful comments on earlier versions of this article. Any remaining errors are, of course, our own.

Footnotes

References

Hide All
Ainsworth-Darnell, K., Shulman, R., & Boland, J. (1998). Dissociating brain responses to syntactic and semantic anomalies: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Journal of Memory and Language, 38, 112130.
Allen, M., Badecker, W., & Osterhout, L. (2003). Morphological analysis in sentence processing: An ERP study. Language and Cognitive Processes, 18, 405430.
Bentin, S. (1987). Event-related potentials, semantic processes, and expectancy factors in word recognition. Brain and Language, 31, 308327.
Bentin, S., & Deutsch, A. (2001). Syntactic and semantic factors in processing gender agreement in Hebrew: Evidence from ERPs and eye movements. Journal of Memory and Language, 45, 200224.
Bond, K., Gabriele, A., Fiorentino, R., & Alemán Bañón, J. (2011). Individual differences and the role of the L1 in L2 processing: An ERP investigation. In Tanner, D. & Herschensohn, J. (eds.), Proceedings of the 11th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference (GASLA 2011), pp. 1729. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
Chen, L., Shu, H. U. A., Liu, Y., Zhao, J., & Li, P. (2007). ERP signatures of subject–verb agreement in L2 learning. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 10, 161174.
Christianson, K. (2008). Sensitivity to syntactic changes in garden path sentences. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 37, 391403.
Christianson, K., Hollingworth, A., Halliwell, J. F., & Ferreira, F. (2001). Thematic roles assigned along the garden path linger. Cognitive Psychology, 42, 368407.
Clahsen, H., & Felser, C. (2006). Grammatical processing in language learners. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 342.
Clahsen, H., Felser, C., Neubauer, K., Sato, M., & Silva, R. (2010). Morphological structure in native and nonnative language processing. Language Learning, 60, 2143.
Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In Doughty, C. J. & Long, M. H. (eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition, pp. 589630. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Durrell, M. (2006). Hammer's German grammar and usage. London: Arnold.
Ferreira, F., BaileyK., G. D. K., G. D., & Ferraro, V. (2002). Good-enough representations in language comprehension. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 1115.
Foucart, A., & Frenck-Mestre, C. (2011). Grammatical gender processing in L2: Electrophysiological evidence of the effect of L1–L2 syntactic similarity. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 379399.
Frenck-Mestre, C., Osterhout, L., McLaughlin, J., & Foucart, A. (2008). The effect of phonological realization of inflectional morphology on verbal agreement in French: Evidence from ERPs. Acta Psychologica, 128, 528536.
Friederici, A. D., Hahne, A., & Mecklinger, A. (1996). Temporal structure of syntactic processing: Early and late event-related potential effects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 22, 12191248.
Friederici, A. D., Steinhauer, K., & Pfeifer, E. (2002). Brain signatures of artificial language processing: Evidence challenging the critical period hypothesis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 99, 529534.
Gillon Dowens, M., Guo, T., Guo, J., Barber, H., & Carreiras, M. (2011). Gender and number processing in Chinese learners of Spanish – Evidence from event related potentials. Neuropsychologia, 49, 16511659.
Guo, J., Guo, T., Yan, Y., Jiang, N., & Peng, D. (2009). ERP evidence for different strategies employed by native speakers and L2 learners in sentence processing. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 22, 123134.
Hagoort, P. (2003). Interplay between syntax and semantics during sentence comprehension: ERP effects of combining syntactic and semantic violations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15, 883899.
Hagoort, P., & Brown, C. M. (1999). Gender electrified: ERP evidence on the syntactic nature of gender processing. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28, 715728.
Hagoort, P., Brown, C. M., & Groothusen, J. (1993). The syntactic positive shift as an ERP measure of syntactic processing. Language and Cognitive Processes, 8, 439484.
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, 123141.
Hahne, A., Mueller, J. L., & Clahsen, H. (2006). Morphological processing in a second language: Behavioral and event-related brain potential evidence for storage and decomposition. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 121134.
Handy, T. C. (2005). Event-related potentials: A methods handbook. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Inoue, K., & Osterhout, L. (2012). Sentence processing as a neural seesaw. Ms., University of Washington, Seattle, WA.
Jackendoff, R. (2007). A parallel architecture perspective on language processing. Brain Research, 1146, 222.
Jasper, H. H. (1958). The ten–twenty system of the International Federation. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 10, 371375.
Johnson, J., Shenkman, K., Newport, E., & Medin, D. (1996). Indeterminacy in the grammar of adult language learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 335352.
Kaan, E. (2002). Investigating the effects of distance and number interference in processing subject–verb dependencies: An ERP study. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 31, 165193.
Kaan, E., Harris, A., Gibson, E., & Holcomb, P. (2000). The P600 as an index of syntactic integration difficulty. Language and Cognitive Processes, 15, 159201.
Kim, A., & Osterhout, L. (2005). The independence of combinatory semantic processing: Evidence from event-related potentials. Journal of Memory and Language, 52, 205225.
King, J. W., & Kutas, M. (1995). Who did what and when? Using word- and clause-level ERPs to monitor working memory usage in reading. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 7, 376395.
Kolk, H. H. J., Chwilla, D. J., van Herten, M., & Oor, P. J. W. (2003). Structure and limited capacity in verbal working memory: A study with event-related potentials. Brain and Language, 85, 136.
Kuperberg, G. (2007). Neural mechanisms of language comprehension: Challenges to syntax. Brain Research, 1146, 2349.
Kutas, M., & Federmeier, K. D. (2000). Electrophysiology reveals semantic memory use in language comprehension. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 463470.
Kutas, M., & Hillyard, S. A. (1980). Reading senseless sentences: Brain potentials reflect semantic anomaly. Science, 207, 203205.
Luck, S. J. (2005). An introduction to the event-related potential technique. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
MacWhinney, B. (2005). A unified model of language acquisition. In Kroll, J. F. & De Groot, A. M. B. (eds.), Hanbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, pp. 4967. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
MacWhinney, B., Bates, E., & Kliegl, R. (1984). Cue validity and sentence intepretation in English, German, and Italian. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 23, 127150.
McDonald, J. L. (2000). Grammaticality judgments in a second language: Influences of age of acquisition and native language. Applied Psycholinguistics, 21, 395423.
McDonald, J. L. (2006). Beyond the critical period: Processing-based explanations for poor grammaticality judgment performance by late second language learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 55, 381401.
McLaughlin, J., Osterhout, L., & Kim, A. (2004). Neural correlates of second-language word learning: Minimal instruction produces rapid change. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 703704.
McLaughlin, J., Tanner, D., Pitkänen, I., Frenck-Mestre, C., Inoue, K., Valentine, G., & Osterhout, L. (2010). Brain potentials reveal discrete stages of L2 grammatical learning. Language Learning, 60, 123150.
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, 205220.
Morgan-Short, K., Faretta, M., Brill, K., Wong, F., & Wong, P. (2012). Declarative and procedural memory as individual differences in second language acquisition. Ms., University of Illinois at Chicago.
Morgan-Short, K., Sanz, C., Steinhauer, K., & Ullman, M. T. (2010). Second language acquisition of gender agreement in explicit and implicit training conditions: An event-related potentials study. Language Learning, 60, 154193.
Morgan-Short, K., Steinhauer, K., Sanz, C., & Ullman, M. T. (2012). Explicit and implicit second language training differentially affect the achievement of native-like brain activation patterns. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 933947.
Naiman, N., Fröhlich, M., Stern, H. H., & Todesco, A. (1996). The good language learner. Philadelphia, PA: Multilingual Matters.
Nakano, H., Saron, C., & Swaab, T. Y. (2010). Speech and span: Working memory capacity impacts the use of animacy but not of world knowledge during spoken sentence comprehension. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 28862898.
Neville, H. J., Nicol, J., Barss, A., Forster, K., & Garrett, M. (1991). Syntactically based sentence processing classes: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 3, 151165.
Nevins, A., Dillon, B., Malhotra, S., & Phillips, C. (2007). The role of feature-number and feature-type in processing Hindi verb agreement violations. Brain Research, 1164, 8194.
Newman, A. J., Tremblay, A., Nichols, E. S., Neville, H. J., & Ullman, M. T. (2012). The influence of language proficiency on lexical semantic processing in native and late learners of English. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24, 12051223.
Nieuwland, M. S., & Van Berkum, J. J. A. (2005). Testing the limits of the semantic illusion phenomenon: ERPs reveal temporary semantic change deafness in discourse comprehension. Cognitive Brain Research, 24, 691701.
Nieuwland, M. S., & Van Berkum, J. J. A. (2008). The interplay between semantic and referential aspects of anaphor noun phrase resolution: Evidence from ERPs. Brain and Language, 106, 119131.
Ojima, S., Matsuba-Kurita, H., Nakamura, N., Hoshino, T., & Hagiwara, H. (2011). Age and the amount of exposure to a foreign language during childhood: Behavioral and ERP data on the semantic comprehension of spoken English by Japanese children. Neuroscience Research, 70, 197205.
Ojima, S., Nakata, H., & Kakigi, R. (2005). An ERP study of second language learning after childhood: Effects of Proficiency. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17, 12121228.
Osterhout, L. (1997). On the brain response to syntactic anomalies: Manipulations of word position and word class reveal individual differences. Brain and Language, 59, 494522.
Osterhout, L., Frenck-Mestre, C., Inoue, K., McLaughlin, J., Tanner, D., & Herschensohn, J. (2012). Morphosyntactic learning and second language acquisition: Evidence from event-related potentials. Ms., University of Washington.
Osterhout, L., & Holcomb, P. J. (1992). Event-related brain potentials elicited by syntactic anomaly. Journal of Memory and Language, 31, 785806.
Osterhout, L., & Holcomb, P. J. (1995). Event-related brain potentials and language comprehension. In Rugg, M. D. & Coles, M. G. H. (eds.), Electrophysiology of mind: Event-related brain potentials and cognition, pp. 171215. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Osterhout, L., McLaughlin, J., Kim, A., Greewald, 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. (eds.), The on-line study of sentence comprehension: Eyetracking-ERPs, and beyond, pp. 271308. New York: Psychology Press.
Osterhout, L., McLaughlin, J., Pitkänen, I., Frenck-Mestre, C., & Molinaro, N. (2006). Novice learners, longitudinal designs, and event-related potentials: A means for exploring the neurocognition of second language processing. Language Learning, 56, 199230.
Osterhout, L., & Mobley, L. (1995). Event-related brain potentials elicited by failure to agree. Journal of Memory and Language, 34, 739773.
Osterhout, L., & Nicol, J. (1999). On the distinctiveness, independence, and time course of the brain responses to syntactic and semantic anomalies. Language and Cognitive Processes, 14, 282317.
Pakulak, E., & Neville, H. J. (2010). Proficiency differences in syntactic processing of monolingual native speakers indexed by event-related potentials. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 27282744.
Prat, C. S. (2011). The brain basis of individual differences in language comprehension abilities. Language and Linguistic Compass, 5, 635649.
Robinson, P. (2002). Individual differences and instructed language learning. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Rossi, S., Gugler, M. F., Friederici, A. D., & Hahne, A. (2006). The impact of proficiency on syntactic second-language processing of German and Italian: Evidence from event-related potentials. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18, 20302048.
Sabourin, L., & Haverkort, M. (2003). Neural substrates of representation and processing of a second language. In van Hout, R., Hulk, A., Kuiken, F. & Towell, R. (eds.), The lexicon–syntax interface in second language acquisition, pp. 175195. Amsterdam & Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Sabourin, L., & Stowe, L. A. (2008). Second language processing: When are first and second languages processed similarly? Second Language Research, 24, 397430.
Sabourin, L., Stowe, L. A., & de Haan, G. J. (2006). Transfer effects in learning a second language grammatical gender system. Second Language Research, 22, 129.
Schwartz, B. D., & Sprouse, R. (1996). L2 cognitive states and the full transfer/full access model. Second Language Research, 12, 4072.
Severens, E., Jansma, B. M., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2008). Morphophonological influences on the comprehension of subject–verb agreement: An ERP study. Brain Research, 1228, 135144.
Skehan, P. (1989). Individual differences in second-language learning. New York: Arnold.
Steinhauer, K., White, E. J., & Drury, J. E. (2009). Temporal dynamics of late second language acquisition: Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Second Language Research, 25, 1341.
Tanner, D. (2011). Agreement mechanisms in native and nonnative language processing: Electrophysiological correlates of complexity and interference. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Washington.
Tanner, D., Inoue, K., & Osterhout, L. (2012). Brain-based individual differences in on-line L2 sentence comprehension. Ms., Pennsylvania State University.
Tokowicz, N., & MacWhinney, B. (2005). Implicit and explicit measures of sensitivity to violations in second language grammar – An event-related potential investigation. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27, 173204.
Ullman, M. T. (2001). The neural basis of lexicon and grammar in first and second language: The declarative/procedural model. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4, 105122.
Ullman, M. T. (2004). Contributions of memory circuits to language: The declarative/procedural model. Cognition, 92, 231270.
Ullman, M. T. (2005). A cognitive neuroscience perspective on second language acquisition: The declarative/procedural model. In Sanz, C. (ed.), Mind and context in adult second language acquisition, pp. 141178. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
van de Meerendonk, N., Kolk, H. H. J., Vissers, C. T. W. M., & Chwilla, D. J. (2010). Monitoring in language perception: Mild and strong conflicts elicit different ERP patterns. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 6782.
van Hell, J. G., & Tokowicz, N. (2010). Event-related brain potentials and second language learning: Syntactic processing in late L2 learners at different L2 proficiency levels. Second Language Research, 26, 4374.
Vos, S. H., Gunter, T. C., Kolk, H. H. J., & Mulder, G. (2001). Working memory constraints on syntactic processing: An electrophysiological investigation. Psychophysiology, 38, 4163.
Weber, K., & Lavric, A. (2008). Syntactic anomaly elicits a lexico-semantic (N400) ERP effect in the second language but not the first. Psychophysiology, 45, 920925.
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, 231256.
Wickens, T. (2002). Elementary signal detection theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zayas, V., Greenwald, A., & Osterhout, L. (2010). Unitentional covert motor activations predict behavioral effects: Multilevel modeling of trial-level electrophysiological motor activations. Psychophysiology, 48, 208217.

Keywords

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed