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Summer 2017

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Choose a Project for PIRE II Summer 2017

Project 1: Language performance, cognitive control, and theory of mind in Polish-English bilingual and Polish monolingual children


 Project Details

The proposed PIRE project will be a synthesis of two lines of research.  One line exploits existing data from a cross-sectional study of Polish-English bilingual children in the UK and Polish monolingual children in Poland.  Children participated in a battery of tests including measures of language (vocabulary, grammar, phonology, narrative), theory of mind, executive functions (response inhibition, interference inhibition, verbal and nonverbal working memory), and nonverbal IQ.  The second line of research continues a study to which two previous PIRE undergraduates have contributed.  This study assesses language, theory of mind, and executive function in preschool children.  We have collected data from monolingual Mandarin-speaking children, bilingual Cantonese-English speaking children, and monolingual English-speaking children.  We propose to add monolingual Polish speaking children, as well as English Language Learners in the U.S., leveraging the tests used in the cross-sectional study to enhance construct validity.  The translational value of the data is significant.  Language, theory of mind, and cognitive control are all known to be important factors in academic success for children, but the complex relationships among these constructs is poorly understood, especially in bilingual children.  The results will have implications for educational interventions for diverse groups of children across a wide range of performance levels.

Project 2: The processing of case marking among L2 German speakers


CountryGermanyUniversity of Braunschweig, Germany
PIRE partner institution         TU Braunschweig
PIRE partner Prof. Holger Hopp
Penn State contact Prof. Carrie Jackson (
Languages required Consult with Prof. Jackson

Project details

This project builds on current collaborative efforts between Drs. Holger Hopp and Carrie Jackson (and others). There would be space for up to 2 students on this project. Both studies use the Visual World Paradigm to investigate how L1 English-L2 learners of German process German case marking and use case markers to predict upcoming words and the overall meaning of a sentence during real-time auditory language processing. Case marking is a critical grammatical feature of German, as it is the most reliable way to identify who does what to whom in a sentence (along with other functions as well). Yet it is difficult for L1 English-L2 learners of German to master this grammatical feature because they are not used to processing this feature in their L1 English. These experiments will help identify ways to encourage L2 German learners to pay attention to case marking during real-time language comprehension (e.g., through the inclusion of prosodic cues, and/or by making the processing of case markers critical for comprehension), as a means to facilitate L2 grammar acquisition and encourage more efficient online processing of L2 grammatical cues.

 Project 3: Spanish-Palenquero bilingualism

CountryColombiaUniversity of Antioquia, Colombia
PIRE partner institution           Universidad de Antioquia, Medellín
PIRE partner Prof. Marianne Dieck
Penn State contact Prof. John Lipski (
Languages required Reasonable fluency in Spanish

Project details

This project contains two phases. The first phase involves collecting field data in the Afro-Colombian village of San Basilio de Palenque, where Spanish and the creole language Palenquero are spoken. The second phase will be carried out at the Universidad de Antioquia in Medellín.

The settingphase 1:  The village of San Basilio de Palenque, some 70 km. to the south of Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Palenque was founded in the mid-17th century when enslaved Africans escaped from Cartagena and formed fortified communities known as palenques. Never re-conquered by the Spaniards, Palenque proudly boasts the title of “The first free people of America.” In Palenque, Spanish is spoken together with the ancestral creole language known to linguists as Palenquero and to residents simply as Lengua `the language.’ Most Palenquero words are similar to their Spanish counterparts, but the two languages differ in grammar (Palenquero has none of the grammatical agreement found in Spanish) and are not mutually intelligible. Palenquero is now taught in the village schools and Spanish-Palenquero bilingualism offers the opportunity to study both the learning and the “un-learning” of grammatical patterns. Palenque is also a prime research area for the study of sociolinguistic attitudes and language variation. In a village of some 3500 residents, smaller than the Penn State campus, a complex linguistic environment awaits researchers. PIRE students will first work with Prof. John Lipski to develop a specific research proposal, then travel to Palenque and work under Prof. Lipski’s supervision to collect data relevant to the proposal. Students will live with a Palenquero family and become fully integrated into the community’s culture and daily life, as well as acquiring a basic knowledge of the Palenquero language. 

The setting, phase 2. PIRE students will travel from Palenque to Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, a well-organized metropolis with an eternal spring climate. At the Unversidad de Antioquia students will have the opportunity to work with Dr. Marianne Dieck, an expert on the Palenquero language, and Dr. María Claudia González Rátiva, a variationist sociolinguist, as well as other members of the linguistics faculty. Students will also have the opportunity to collaborate in the massive urban linguistic study of the Spanish of Medellín and to experience first-hand the linguistic diversity of a major South American city.

 Project 4: The influence of the second language on the first

CountrySpainUniversity of Granada, Spain
PIRE partner institution   University of Granada 
PIRE partnerProf. Teresa Bajo
Penn State contact  Prof. Giuli Dussias (
Languages required Fluency in Spanish

Project details

A great deal of research on second language (L2) learning has shown that there is transfer from the native or dominant first language (L1) to the weaker L2. However, recent studies also demonstrate that the L2 can come to influence the L1 and that syntactic processing in the L1 can change in profound ways when individuals acquire and are immersed in an L2. These changes to the L1 come about through daily exposure to an L2, even when bilinguals use their two languages on a daily basis.

Most of the research on the influence of the L2 on the L1 has been conducted with adult second language speakers. In the PIRE project described here, we propose to examine this question in elementary school-aged children living in Granada, Spain. All children are native speakers of Spanish and attend a full-time English immersion school. Hence, the environment is propitious to examine the question of whether immersion in the children’s L2 English will affect the syntactic processing of their L1 Spanish. We will investigate how children process instructions containing a temporary syntactic ambiguity involving “prepositional phrase” attachment, such as ``Put the frog on the napkin in the box'', relative to unambiguous versions, such as ``Put the frog that's on the napkin in the box''. In the ambiguous version, the phrase ``on the napkin'' can be interpreted as a Destination of the putting event, indicating where to put the frog, or as a Modifier of the frog, indicating which frog should be moved.

The sentence will be heard in one of two visual contexts (see illustration below). One context supports the Modifier interpretation, consisting of two frogs (one of which is on a napkin), an empty napkin and an empty box (2-Referent context). In this case, upon hearing ``the frog'', a listener would not know which frog is being referred to, and should thus interpret the phrase “on the napkin'' as a Modifier. The other context will support the Destination interpretation and will consist of the same scene except that the second frog will be replaced with another animal such as a horse (1-Referent context). In this case, modification of “the frog” with “on the napkin” would be unnecessary because there is only one frog. Hence, we would expect listeners to interpret the prepositional phrase as a Destination, referring to the empty napkin.

In an earlier eye-tracking study, Tanenhaus et al. (1995) found that adult listeners could use the Referential Principle to inform syntactic commitments in the way described above. Adults initially misinterpreted the ambiguous phrase as a Destination in the 1-Referent context but not in the 2-Referent context. In fact, the number of looks to the Incorrect Destination in the 2-Referent context was essentially identical to the number observed for unambiguous sentences (``Put the frog that's on the…''), suggesting that adults' initial interpretation of the ambiguous phrase in the 2-Referent contexts was as a Modifier. The question we seek to answer is: what will children immersed in their L2 English do?

Project 5: Speech perception and speech production in child and adult second language learners at different levels of proficiency: Behavioral and electrophysiological approaches


Country the Netherlands Radboud University, Netherlands
PIRE partner institution Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands
PIRE partner Prof. James McQueen
Penn State contact Prof. Janet van Hell (
Languages required Consult with Prof. Van Hell

Project details

This project extends two collaborative research lines of Drs. McQueen, Van Hell, Stöhr, and others. The first research line examines speech production in child and adult bilinguals, and how Voice Onset Time (VOT) in the first language (L1) and second language (L2) varies as a function of L2 learning, L1 attrition, and cross-linguistic interaction, in different types of child and adult bilinguals (including heritage speakers, bilinguals with and without immersion experience, and bilinguals at different L2 proficiency levels; e.g., Stöhr, Benders, Van Hell, & Fikkert, submitted; Janssen, Segers, McQueen, & Verhoeven, in press; Tsuji, Fikkert, Yamane, & Mazuka, 2016). This project will start in Summer 2017.

The second research line extends research on word learning and memory consolidation in monolingual and bilingual adults (e.g., Bakker, Takashima, Van Hell, Janzen, & McQueen, 2015; Takashima, Bakker, Van Hell, Janzen, & McQueen, 2014) to child novel word learners, and will examine how different training procedures affect word learning and memory consolidation in children and adults. This project requires extensive EEG/ERP experience and will start in Summer 2018, but interested students can contact Prof. Van Hell and start their EEG/ERP training in Van Hell's lab in Spring 2017 or Fall 2017.


Bakker, I., Takashima, A., van Hell, J. G., Janzen, G., & McQueen, J. M. (2015). Changes in theta and beta oscillations as signatures of novel word consolidation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27 (7), 1286-1297.

Janssen, C., Segers, E., McQueen, J. M., & Verhoeven, L. (in press). Transfer from implicit to explicit phonological abilities in first and second language learners. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

Stöhr, A., Benders, T., Van Hell, J. G., & Fikkert, P. (submitted). Second language attainment and first language attrition: The case of VOT systems in immersed Dutch-German late bilinguals. Second Language Research.

Takashima, A., Bakker, I., Van Hell, J. G., Janzen, G., & McQueen, J. (2014). Richness of information about novel words determines how episodic and semantic memory networks interact during lexicalization. NeuroImage, 84, 265–278.

Tsuji, S., Fikkert, P., Yamane, N., & Mazuka, R. (2016). 
Language-general biases and language-specific experience contribute to phonological detail in toddlers' word representations. Developmental Psychology, 52(3), 379-390.