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Poster D61, Friday, August 17, 4:45 – 6:30 pm, Room 2000AB

Linking Second Language Proficiency and Naming Failures in Native Language: An fMRI Study

Katy Borodkin1, Abigail Livny-Ezer2,3, Galia Tsarfaty2, Miriam Faust4,5;1Department of Communication Disorders, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, 2Department of Diagnostic Imaging, Sheba Medical Center, 3Joseph Sagol Neuroscience Center, Sheba Medical Center, 4The Leslie and Susan Gonda (Golschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, Bar-Ilan University, 5Department of Psychology, Bar-Ilan University

INTRODUCTION: Individuals differ in how successful they are in second language (L2) learning. Some achieve native-like proficiency, while others are only able to obtain a minimal level of linguistic competence. One of the factors affecting L2 learning outcomes is native language (L1) skills. For instance, it has been demonstrated that low-proficiency L2 learners experience more tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) word finding failures while naming in L1 compared to high-proficiency learners (Borodkin & Faust, 2013, 2014). TOT states arise when a person knows the target word but is temporarily unable to retrieve it. Our research aimed to explore the neural correlates of this difference. METHOD: The sample included 24 undergraduate students, all Hebrew native speakers, who learned English as L2 starting from age 8 or 9 in a school setting. Participants were assigned to low- or high-proficiency group based on the median score on an English proficiency test, which included reading comprehension passages and cloze exercises. During the fMRI scanning session, we employed the TOT experimental paradigm, where participants were asked to covertly name pictures of objects in one run and of famous people in another. The naming responses, all of which were in Hebrew (L1), were categorized as “know”, “don’t know”, or “TOT”. RESULTS: TOT responses comprised 10% of all naming responses across the two runs (15 trials per participant, on average). In keeping with previous behavioral findings, low-proficiency L2 learners reported more TOT states in the fMRI task than high-proficiency learners. Regions of interest (ROIs) were established based on word retrieval literature (Indefrey, 2011) and defined using the AAL atlas: left superior temporal gyrus (STG) and left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG; including pars opercularis and pars trianglularis), both of which support phonological form encoding, and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC; including anterior, middle, and posterior parts), implicated in selection of multiple lexical competitors. The contralateral regions were also defined as ROIs. In both TOT > know and TOT > DK contrasts, low-proficiency learners showed reduced activity in the left IFG (specifically, pars triangularis) compared to high-proficiency learners (the difference was marginally significant in the TOT > DK contrast). No differences were observed in the remaining ROIs. CONCLUSIONS: Our research suggests that reduced activity in the left IFG observed in low-proficiency compared to high-proficiency L2 learners on L1 TOT trials can impede word retrieval, leading to more frequent L1 TOT states. Left IFG has been implicated not only in phonological encoding for word retrieval, but in phonological processing more generally. It is thus possible that reduced activity in this area may negatively affect L2 learning outcomes in multiple ways. REFERENCES: Borodkin, K., & Faust, M. (2013). Tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states and cross-linguistic transfer. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16(4), 914-923. Borodkin, K., & Faust, M. (2014). Native language phonological skills in low‐proficiency second language learners. Language Learning, 64(1), 132-159. Indefrey, P. (2011). The spatial and temporal signatures of word production components: a critical update. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 255.

Topic Area: Multilingualism