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      An ERP study on L2 syntax processing: When do learners fail?

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          Abstract

          Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) can reveal online processing differences between native speakers and second language (L2) learners during language comprehension. Using the P600 as a measure of native-likeness, we investigated processing of grammatical gender agreement in highly proficient immersed Romance L2 learners of Dutch. We demonstrate that these late learners consistently fail to show native-like sensitivity to gender violations. This appears to be due to a combination of differences from the gender marking in their L1 and the relatively opaque Dutch gender system. We find that L2 use predicts the effect magnitude of non-finite verb violations, a relatively regular and transparent construction, but not that of gender agreement violations. There were no effects of age of acquisition, length of residence, proficiency or offline gender knowledge. Additionally, a within-subject comparison of stimulus modalities (written vs. auditory) shows that immersed learners may show some of the effects only in the auditory modality; in non-finite verb violations, an early native-like N400 was only present for auditory stimuli. However, modality failed to influence the response to gender. Taken together, the results confirm the persistent problems of Romance learners of Dutch with online gender processing and show that they cannot be overcome by reducing task demands related to the modality of stimulus presentation.

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          Most cited references 40

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          The syntactic positive shift (sps) as an erp measure of syntactic processing

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            Electrophysiological evidence for two steps in syntactic analysis. Early automatic and late controlled processes.

             A Hahne,  A Friederici (1999)
            In this study we examined the properties of the processes involved in the structural analysis of sentences using event-related brain potential measures (ERP). Previous research had shown two ERP components to correlate with phrase structure violations: an early left anterior negativity (ELAN), which is assumed to reflect first-pass parsing processes, and a late parietally distributed positivity (P600), assumed to reflect second-pass parsing processes. We hypothesized that the first-pass parsing processes are highly automatic, whereas second-pass parsing processes are more controlled. To test this hypothesis we varied the proportion of correct sentences and sentences containing phrase structure violations with incorrect sentences being either of a low (20% violation) or a high (80% violation) proportion. Results showed that the early left anterior negativity was elicited and equally pronounced under both proportion conditions. By contrast, the late positivity was elicited for a low proportion of incorrect sentences only. This data pattern suggests that first-pass parsing processes are automatic, whereas second-pass parsing processes are under participants' strategic control.
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              Expect the Unexpected: Event-related Brain Response to Morphosyntactic Violations

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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Journal
                Front Psychol
                Front Psychol
                Front. Psychol.
                Frontiers in Psychology
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                1664-1078
                25 September 2014
                2014
                : 5
                Affiliations
                Center for Language and Cognition, University of Groningen Groningen, Netherlands
                Research School of Behavioral and Cognitive Neurosciences, University of Groningen Groningen, Netherlands
                Department of Language and Linguistics, University of Essex Colchester, UK
                Author notes

                Edited by: Christos Pliatsikas, University of Kent, UK

                Reviewed by: Christos Pliatsikas, University of Kent, UK; Eleonora Rossi, Penn State University, USA

                *Correspondence: Nienke Meulman, Center for Language and Cognition, University of Groningen, Oude Kijk in 't Jatstraat 26, PO Box 716, 9700 AS Groningen, Netherlands e-mail: n.meulman@ 123456rug.nl

                This article was submitted to Language Sciences, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

                Article
                10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01072
                4174886
                Copyright © 2014 Meulman, Stowe, Sprenger, Bresser and Schmid.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                Page count
                Figures: 7, Tables: 4, Equations: 0, References: 84, Pages: 17, Words: 13372
                Categories
                Psychology
                Original Research Article

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