Electrophysiological correlates of language switching in second language learners

Authors

  • Maartje Van Der Meij,

    1. Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
    2. Department of Psychology, University of Oviedo, Asturias, Spain
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  • Fernando Cuetos,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of Oviedo, Asturias, Spain
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  • Manuel Carreiras,

    1. Basque Center on Cognition Brain and Language, Guipúzcoa, Spain
    2. Instituto de Tecnologías Biomédicas, University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
    3. IKERBASQUE, Basque Foundation for Science, Vizcaya, Spain
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  • Horacio A. Barber

    1. Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
    2. Instituto de Tecnologías Biomédicas, University of La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain
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  • We are grateful to Dr. Van Petten and two anonymous reviewers for all their helpful comments on a previous version of the manuscript. Maartje van der Meij and Fernando Cuetos were funded by the European Research and Training Network: Language and Brain (Marie-Curie Program). Manuel Carreiras was funded by the grants SEJ2006-09238 and CONSOLIDER-INGENIO 2010 (CSD2008-00048) of the Spanish Ministry of Science. Horacio A. Barber was funded by the “Ramón y Cajal” program and the grant SEJ2007-67364 of the Spanish Ministry of Science.

Address correspondence to: Maartje van der Meij, University of La Laguna, Campus de Guajara s/n, Facultad de Psicología, 38205—S/C de Tenerife, Spain. E-mail: maartje@ull.es

Abstract

This study analyzed the electrophysiological correlates of language switching in second language learners. Participants were native Spanish speakers classified in two groups according to English proficiency (high and low). Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while they read English sentences, half of which contained an adjective in Spanish in the middle of the sentence. The ERP results show the time-course of language switch processing for both groups: an initial detection of the switch driven by language-specific orthography (left-occipital N250) followed by costs at the level of the lexico-semantic system (N400), and finally a late updating or reanalysis process (LPC). In the high proficiency group, effects in the N400 time window extended to left anterior electrodes and were followed by larger LPC amplitudes at posterior sites. These differences suggest that proficiency modulates the different processes triggered by language switches.

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