Studies of non-native language processing: behavioural and neurophysiological evidence, and the cognitive effects of non-balanced bilingualism
Vega Mendoza2015.pdf (2.577Mb)
Vega Mendoza, Mariana
MetadataShow full item record
What are the effects of non-balanced bilingualism on cognitive performance? And how do proficient, non-native speakers acquire and use lexical, syntactic and semantic information during sentence processing? Whilst there is growing research on these topics, there is no firm consensus on how to answer these questions. In the literature on cognitive effects of bilingualism, this lack of consensus has even resulted in radically opposing views and a heated debate. In this thesis, I seek to provide a balanced treatment of the literature and to address the above-mentioned questions by employing behavioral and neurophysiological paradigms. First, using a structural priming paradigm, I examine how proficient, non-native speakers of different native language backgrounds (Romance and Germanic) acquire lexically-specific syntactic restrictions of non-alternating verbs in English. Results from these experiments suggest that, although non-native speakers partially acquire lexically-specific syntactic restrictions, their knowledge is not native-like. Moreover, transfer from the first language does not seem to play a role in the acquisition of the relevant restrictions. Second, using Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) I examine whether proficient non-native Spanish-English speakers draw on different forms of semantic information such as relatedness and animacy incrementally during sentence comprehension. Results of these experiments suggest that, while relatedness facilitates processing (indexed by N400s) in both native and non-native speakers, effects of animacy are smaller in non-native speakers, relative to native speakers. Third, I employ a series of auditory attentional tasks and measures of lexical access and verbal fluency to assess cognitive functions in non-balanced bilinguals with different levels of language proficiency. Results show a bilingual advantage in inhibitory control and a non-significant trend towards bilingual better performance in attentional switching, and the groups exhibit similar performance on verbal fluency. Results of all the studies are discussed in the context of the existing literature on cognitive performance in bilinguals and accounts of language processing in native and non-native speakers and suggestions for future research are provided.