We used event-related potentials to investigate morphosyntactic development in 78 adult English-speaking learners of Spanish as a second language (L2) across the proficiency spectrum. We examined how development is modulated by the similarity between the native language (L1) and the L2, by comparing number (a feature present in English) and gender agreement (novel feature). We also investigated how development is impacted by structural distance, manipulating the distance between the agreeing elements by probing both within-phrase (fruta muy jugosa “fruit-FEM-SG very juicy-FEM-SG”) and across-phrase agreement (fresa es ácida “strawberry-FEM-SG is tart-FEM-SG”). Regression analyses revealed that the learners’ overall proficiency, as measured by a standardized test, predicted their accuracy with the target properties in the grammaticality judgment task (GJT), but did not predict P600 magnitude to the violations. However, a relationship emerged between immersion in Spanish-speaking countries and P600 magnitude for gender. Our results also revealed a correlation between accuracy in the GJT and P600 magnitude, suggesting that behavioral sensitivity to the target property predicts neurophysiological sensitivity. Subsequent group analyses revealed that the highest-proficiency learners showed equally robust P600 effects for number and gender. This group also elicited more positive waveforms for within- than across-phrase agreement overall, similar to the native controls. The lowest-proficiency learners showed a P600 for number overall, but no effects for gender. Unlike the highest-proficiency learners, they also showed no sensitivity to structural distance, suggesting that sensitivity to such linguistic factors develops over time. Overall, these results suggest an important role for proficiency in morphosyntactic development, although differences emerged between behavioral and electrophysiological measures. While L2 proficiency predicted behavioral sensitivity to agreement, development with respect to the neurocognitive mechanisms recruited in processing only emerged when comparing the two extremes of the proficiency spectrum. Importantly, while both L1-L2 similarity and hierarchical structure impact development, they do not constrain it.
Alemán Bañón J, Fiorentino R, Gabriele A (2018) Using event-related potentials to track morphosyntactic development in second language learners: The processing of number and gender agreement in Spanish. PLoS ONE 13(7): e0200791. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0200791
Items in KU ScholarWorks are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.
We want to hear from you! Please
share your stories
about how Open Access to this item benefits YOU.
The University of Kansas prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, age, ancestry, disability, status as a veteran, sexual orientation, marital status, parental status, gender identity, gender expression and genetic information in the University’s programs and activities. The following person has been designated to handle inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: Director of the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, IOA@ku.edu, 1246 W. Campus Road, Room 153A, Lawrence, KS, 66045, (785)864-6414, 711 TTY.