Dynamics of inhibitory control during bilingual speech production: An electrophysiological study

Zheng, X., Roelofs, A., Erkan, H., & Lemhöfer, K. (2020). Dynamics of inhibitory control during bilingual speech production: An electrophysiological study. Neuropsychologia, 140: 107387. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2020.107387.
Bilingual speakers have to control their languages to avoid interference, which may be achieved by enhancing the target language and/or inhibiting the nontarget language. Previous research suggests that bilinguals use inhibition (e.g., Jackson et al., 2001), which should be reflected in the N2 component of the event-related potential (ERP) in the EEG. In the current study, we investigated the dynamics of inhibitory control by measuring the N2 during language switching and repetition in bilingual picture naming. Participants had to name pictures in Dutch or English depending on the cue. A run of same-language trials could be short (two or three trials) or long (five or six trials). We assessed whether RTs and N2 changed over the course of same-language runs, and at a switch between languages. Results showed that speakers named pictures more quickly late as compared to early in a run of same-language trials. Moreover, they made a language switch more quickly after a long run than after a short run. This run-length effect was only present in the first language (L1), not in the second language (L2). In ERPs, we observed a widely distributed switch effect in the N2, which was larger after a short run than after a long run. This effect was only present in the L2, not in the L1, although the difference was not significant between languages. In contrast, the N2 was not modulated during a same-language run. Our results suggest that the nontarget language is inhibited at a switch, but not during the repeated use of the target language.
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