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Processing subject–verb agreement in a second language depends on proficiency*



Subject–verb agreement is a computation that is often difficult to execute perfectly in the first language (L1) and even more difficult to produce skillfully in a second language (L2). In this study, we examine the way in which bilingual speakers complete sentence fragments in a manner that reflects access to both grammatical and conceptual number. In two experiments, we show that bilingual speakers are sensitive to both grammatical and conceptual number in the L1 and grammatical number agreement in the L2. However, only highly proficient bilinguals are also sensitive to conceptual number in the L2. The results suggest that the extent to which speakers are able to exploit conceptual information during speech planning depends on the level of language proficiency.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Noriko Hoshino, ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice, Bangor University, Bangor Gwynedd LL57 2DG,


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This study was completed by the first author as a master's thesis under the direction of the second and third authors. The research reported in this paper was supported in part by NSF Grant BCS-0418071 and NIH Grant R01-HD053146 to Judith F. Kroll, by NIH Grant HD50629 and NSF Grant BCS-0821924 to Paola E. Dussias and by NSF Dissertation Grant BCS-0518814 to Noriko Hoshino and Judith F. Kroll. We thank James Burns, Natalie De Rosa, Mark Minnick, Judith Pirela and Raul Rios for research assistance. Preliminary results were presented at the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society, the 4th International Symposium on Bilingualism, and the 4th International Conference on the Mental Lexicon.



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