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Keywords:

  • second language acquisition;
  • event-related potentials;
  • language processing;
  • explicit;
  • implicit;
  • agreement

This study employed an artificial language learning paradigm together with a combined behavioral/event-related potential (ERP) approach to examine the neurocognition of the processing of gender agreement, an aspect of inflectional morphology that is problematic in adult second language (L2) learning. Subjects learned to speak and comprehend an artificial language under either explicit (classroomlike) or implicit (immersionlike) training conditions. In each group, both noun-article and noun-adjective gender agreement processing were examined behaviorally and with ERPs at both low and higher levels of proficiency. Results showed that the two groups learned the language to similar levels of proficiency but showed somewhat different ERP patterns. At low proficiency, both types of agreement violations (adjective, article) yielded N400s, but only for the group with implicit training. Additionally, noun-adjective agreement elicited a late N400 in the explicit group at low proficiency. At higher levels of proficiency, noun-adjective agreement violations elicited N400s for both the explicit and implicit groups, whereas noun-article agreement violations elicited P600s for both groups. The results suggest that interactions among linguistic structure, proficiency level, and type of training need to be considered when examining the development of aspects of inflectional morphology in L2 acquisition.