Effects of sentence context in L2 natural speech comprehension

FitzPatrick, I. (2007). Effects of sentence context in L2 natural speech comprehension. Nijmegen CNS, 2, 43-56.
Electrophysiological studies consistently find N400 effects of semantic incongruity in non-native written language comprehension. Typically these N400 effects are later than N400 effects in native comprehension, suggesting that semantic processing in one’s second language (L2) may be delayed compared to one’s first language (L1). In this study we were firstly interested in replicating the semantic incongruity effect using natural auditory speech, which poses strong demands on the speed of processing. Secondly, we wished to investigate whether a possible delay in semantic processing might be due to bilinguals accessing lexical items from both their L1 and L2 (a more extensive lexical search). We recorded EEG from 30 Dutch-English bilinguals who listened to English sentences � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � � ��� � � in which the sentence-final word was: (1) semantically fitting, (2) semantically incongruent, (3) initially congruent: semantically incongruent, but sharing initial phonemes with the most probable sentence completion within the L2, (4) semantically incongruent, but sharing initial phonemes with the L1 translation equivalent of the most probable sentence completion. We found an N400 effect in each of the semantically incongruent conditions. This N400 effect was significantly delayed to L2 words that were initially congruent with the sentence context. We found no effect of initial overlap with L1 translation equivalents. Taken together these findings firstly demonstrate that non-native listeners are sensitive to semantic incongruity in natural speech, secondly indicate that semantic integration in non-native listening can start on the basis of word initial phonemes, and finally suggest that during L2 sentence processing listeners do not access the L1 lexicon.
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