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Bilinguals’ production choices predict neurophysiological performance: Evidence from codeswitching

Bilinguals’ production choices predict neurophysiological performance: Evidence from codeswitching
When: April 10, 2016

PIRE fellow Anne Beatty-Martinez presents at the International Symposium on Bilingual Processing in Adults and Children (ISBPAC).

Linguistic prediction allows individuals to link what comprehenders expect to hear with what speakers actually say. The Production-Distribution-Comprehension model (PDC; Gennari & MacDonald, 2009) states that listeners’ and readers’ sensitivity to distributional patterns in production can constrain the comprehension system. The PDC model inherently predicts variability among speakers who codeswitch and speakers who don’t codeswitch. We test this hypothesis at the neural level by examining the relationship between codeswitching production patterns and comprehension difficulty. Because exposure to codeswitching is predicted to impact comprehension, we recruited Spanish-English codeswitchers in the US and non-codeswitchers in Spain. We focus on the production and comprehension of mixed noun phrases (mixed NPs; e.g., elM forkM). Evidence from naturalistic corpora suggests that bilinguals exhibit an overall preference for the masculine determiner (el), regardless of the noun’s gender in Spanish (Otheguy & Lapidus, 2003). In contrast, switches involving the feminine determiner (la) occur less frequently and are restricted to English nouns that are feminine in Spanish. To illustrate, el-codeswitches such as (elM forkM) and (elM spoonF) are extremely common. To a lesser extent, la-codeswitches involving feminine nouns (laF spoonF) have also been attested in bilingual speech, while those involving masculine nouns (*laF forkM) have not. We predicted that neurophysiological responses would reflect this asymmetry in codeswitchers but not in non-codeswitchers. Production was examined in a corpus of unscripted, task-oriented dialogues between two bilingual speakers (Anderson et al. 1991); comprehension was examined in sentential contexts using event-related potentials. As shown in Table 1, preliminary results for production show that codeswitchers (N=11) follow this pattern, while non-codeswitchers (N=11) do not. That is, a gender asymmetry in mixed NPs was found only in the bilingual speech of our participants tested in the US. For bilinguals who codeswitch, switches consistent with attested distributional patterns were easier to process. This is indicated by the N400 response for less frequent compared to more frequent switches. Crucially, no such effects were observed in non-codeswitchers. Our data suggest that individuals are highly sensitive to the constraints of their interactional context. Further research will look into how preferred and frequent switches compare to non-switched stimuli in these two groups of bilinguals. In this way, converging evidence from codeswitching sheds light on how production choices speakers make can predict comprehension performance.