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Poster A64, Wednesday, November 8, 10:30 – 11:45 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Learning words from a new language changes processing of native language words

Gabriela Meade1,2, Phillip J. Holcomb1;1San Diego State University, 2University of California, San Diego

A number of studies have documented how learning novel words from a second language (L2) changes the N400 elicited by those words. Here, we focused instead on how learning novel L2 words changes the N400 response to native language (L1) English words. In Experiment 1, participants were tested in a language decision task (i.e., is this word from English or from the other language?) before and after they learned to associate a set of L2 (pseudo)words with pictures of familiar objects. Surprisingly, the N400s elicited by the L1 words increased from pretest to posttest. This effect is unlikely due to repeating the task, since N400 amplitude typically decreases across repetitions. Rather, we hypothesized that the increase in N400 amplitude after learning resulted from an increase in either lexicosemantic processing or task difficulty. Before learning the L2 words, only L1 words had lexical representations and reliable language decisions could easily be made based on superficial lexicosemantic information (i.e., have I seen this word before?). After learning, words from both languages had lexical representations and completing the task likely required activating specific information about each word (e.g., semantics, language membership), which may have created a more challenging task environment. Experiment 2 was designed to dissociate between these two alternatives. In the same task, we compared processing of concrete and abstract L1 words before and after a new group of participants learned a different set of novel L2 (pseudo)words. The increase in N400 amplitude from pretest to posttest that we observed in Experiment 1 was largely specific to concrete L1 words. This pattern is more consistent with deeper semantic processing of the L1 words after learning than it is with an overall increase in task difficulty; changes in task difficulty should have affected concrete and abstract words similarly. Together then, these results demonstrate that having acquired the L2 words influenced the way in which L1 words were processed.

Topic Area: Multilingualism

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