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Poster E58, Friday, November 10, 10:00 – 11:15 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Processing sentences with “only” in a second language: Evidence from ERPs

Rachida Ganga1, Marijn Struiksma1, Emily Haoyan Ge2, Virginia Yip2, Aoju Chen1;1Utrecht University, the Netherlands, 2The Chinese University of Hong Kong, China

INTRODUCTION: The focus particle ‘only’ activates a set of alternatives to the word that is prosodically highlighted via emphatic accentuation in a sentence, thereby contributing to a contrastive focus interpretation of the word, e.g., I have only CARRIED the bag (not PACKING the bag). Further, ‘only’ typically directly precedes the accented word in spontaneous speech (e.g. I have only CARRIED the bag is more common than I have only carried the BAG). Dimitrova et al. (2012) examined the processing of ‘only’ in native speakers of Dutch and found that in native speakers of Dutch ‘only’ triggers expectations of emphatic accentuation (absence of a frontal-central P300) and that accentuation on a word further away from ‘only’ triggers re-analysis at the end of a sentence (eliciting a frontal P600). The processing of the interface between focus particles like ‘only’ and accentuation in the brain has not been studied in L2. Limited behavioural research suggests that L2 listeners operate on the semantics of focus particles differently than native listeners, regardless of L2 proficiency (e.g. faster phoneme detection in the presence of focus particles in L2 but not in L1) (Sennema-Skowronek 2008). To obtain a clearer insight into the processing of sentences with focus particles in L2, we examine three research questions in advanced Dutch learners of English: (1) Does ‘only’ trigger expectations of emphatic accentuation on the adjacent word? (2) Does accentuation further from ‘only’ in a sentence trigger re-analysis? (2) Is the processing of sentences with ‘only’ modulated by discourse context that implies contrastive focus? METHOD: Four types of short stories were presented aurally in English to advanced Dutch learners of English (n=30). These stories differed in whether the target sentences were preceded by a context consisting of three sentences (“The dinosaur has a bucket and a suitcase. He was going to carry them and throw them. Then he changed his mind.”) and whether emphatic accentuation was placed on the verb, adjacent to “only”, or on the object, later on in the target sentence (“The dinosaur is only CARRYING the bucket.” or “The dinosaur is only carrying the BUCKET.”). A comprehension task was given in 25% of the trials to assess the attention of the participants. Using a 64-channel standard EEG setup, we recorded EEG signals starting at the onset of the verb. PREDICTIONS: Considering the similarity in the semantics of the focus particle only/alleen in English and Dutch and the use of accentuation, we may expect native-like processing, i.e. absence of P300 and presence of P600 with or without context. However, research on online processing of the prosody-information structure interface shows that L2 listeners do not integrate the two strands of information to perform anticipatory processing (Chen and Lai 2010). We may thus also expect non-native processing, i.e. presence of P300 and later and even total absence of P600 in particular without context. Data acquisition is still ongoing. We will discuss these predictions in the light of the data and implications of our results in our presentation.

Topic Area: Multilingualism

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