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Poster A60, Wednesday, November 8, 10:30 – 11:45 am, Harborview and Loch Raven Ballrooms

Right hemisphere contribution in syntactic category processing in L2 —ERP and fMRI data from learners of Mandarin Chinese

Chia-Ho Lai1, Chih Yeh1, Po-Heng Chen1, Chia-Lin Lee1, Shu-Kai Hsieh1, I-Wen Su1, Te-Hsin Liu1, Chia-Rung Lu1, I-Ni Tsai1, Tai-Li Chou1;1National Taiwan University

Prior research has implicated greater right hemisphere (RH) involvement in second language (L2) processing, especially before native-like proficiency is obtained. To better understand the RH contribution in L2 syntactic processing, this study obtained functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and Event-Related Potential (ERP) data from native speakers and L2 learners of Mandarin Chinese during syntactic category processing. Experiment one used fMRI to investigate regions relevant for Chinese syntactic category processing from 20 native Chinese speakers and 10 intermediate-to-advanced learners of Chinese. In the scanner, participants viewed and judged the grammaticality of Chinese two-word phrases—a syntactic cue predictive of either a noun or a verb followed by a target word matching or mismatching the syntactic category expectancy. Data from 3 learners were excluded due to exceedingly low accuracy. Results comparing the ungrammatical versus grammatical conditions showed a left-lateralized response pattern for native speakers, with increased activation in the left superior frontal gyrus. L2 learners, in contrast, showed increased activation in the right anterior insula instead. This finding thus highlights the supportive role of the RH in L2 syntactic processing. Experiment two used ERPs in tandem with visual half-field presentation techniques to provide a multidimensional account of the processing biases of each hemisphere. Experiment two used a similar design and identical presentation timing, but focused on the more predictive noun context and laterally presented the grammatical and ungrammatical targets to either visual field (VF). 20 native Chinese speakers and 17 intermediate-to-advanced learners of Chinese participated. Target-locked ERPs showed, for native speakers, a P600 grammaticality effect with right-visual-field (RVF/LH) presentation only but a N400 grammaticality effect with both VF presentations. L2 learners as a group showed no N400 or P600 effects with either VF presentation. However, individual analyses showed a reliable negative correlation between LVF/RH P600 effects and self-report proficiency, indicating the benefits of suppressing RH P600 responses to achieve higher language ability. Together, our results provide support for the RH contribution in L2 processing and suggest that RH support may be dynamically modulated as L2 proficiency increases. Follow-up studies with designs appropriate for a wider range of proficiency levels would help to confirm these findings.

Topic Area: Multilingualism

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