Bilingual language control: An event-related brain potential study

Christoffels, I. K., Firk, C., & Schiller, N. O. (2007). Bilingual language control: An event-related brain potential study. Brain Research, 1147, 192-208. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2007.01.137.
This study addressed how bilingual speakers switch between their first and second language when speaking. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) and naming latencies were measured while unbalanced German (L1)-Dutch (L2) speakers performed a picture-naming task. Participants named pictures either in their L1 or in their L2 (blocked language conditions), or participants switched between their first and second language unpredictably (mixed language condition). Furthermore, form similarity between translation equivalents (cognate status) was manipulated. A cognate facilitation effect was found for L1 and L2 indicating phonological activation of the non-response language in blocked and mixed language conditions. The ERP data also revealed small but reliable effects of cognate status. Language switching resulted in equal switching costs for both languages and was associated with a modulation in the ERP waveforms (time windows 275-375 ms and 375-475 ms). Mixed language context affected especially the L1, both in ERPs and in latencies, which became slower in L1 than L2. It is suggested that sustained and transient components of language control should be distinguished. Results are discussed in relation to current theories of bilingual language processing.
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