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L2 Proficiency Effects on ERPs

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2013

Robert V. Reichle*
Northern Illinois University
David Birdsong
University of Texas at Austin
*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert V. Reichle, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, 111 Watson Hall, Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, IL 60115. E-mail:


This study examined the event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited by focus processing among first language (L1) speakers and second language (L2) learners of French. Participants read wh-questions containing explicit focus marking, followed by responses instantiating contrastive and informational focus. We hypothesized that L2 proficiency would modulate nativelikeness in L2 processing. For the L1 and L2 groups, widespread word-long positive shifts reflected the processing of nouns receiving informational and contrastive focus. Nouns receiving contrastive focus showed an increased anterior negativity compared to informational focus for both groups. Second language proficiency modulated the amplitude of this negativity effect, and subgroup analyses of low- and high-proficiency L2 learners showed no significant effect of focus condition among low-proficiency learners. This modulatory relationship between L2 proficiency and nativelikeness of processing is consistent with the dynamic sequence of L2 ERPs observed for morphosyntactic processing and extends those findings to the syntax-pragmatics interface phenomenon of focus processing.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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