Date of Award

Summer 8-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

Forensic Psychology

Language

English

First Advisor

Jillian Grose-Fifer

Second Reader

Charles Stone

Third Advisor

Sean Murphy

Abstract

Research suggests that code-switching between two languages is possible because there is nonselective access to both languages, i.e., both languages are interdependent and stored in a shared lexicon. In this study, we used event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to measure the neural processes associated with language access, in particular, the ERP components: N200 and N400. Although previous studies have utilized these ERPs to investigate language access using interlingual homographs, i.e., words that look the same in two languages but have different meanings, these have focused on comparisons of monolingual and bilinguals. In contrast, we used a design that looked at Spanish speakers who were early or late English learners, and had high proficiency in both languages. We investigated if early learners can suppress their first language (L1-Spanish) as efficiently as late learners. Both early and late highly proficient Spanish-English bilinguals read sentences in their second language (L2-English) that contained Spanish-English homographs. Further, the study used the amplitude of the N200 and N400 components to investigate whether participants used nonselective access to process homographs or whether they rapidly translated from one language to the other. Participants integrated the English meaning of the interlingual homographs with more ease (small, less negative N200 and N400) than the Spanish meaning. Our findings suggest that early and late bilinguals process interlingual homograph sentences in a similar fashion. Additionally, it has been suggested that highly proficient bilinguals, regardless of age of acquisition, can alter which lexicon is accessed faster because the strength of lexical connections increase with higher proficiency. Lastly, bilingual word recognition involves a language nonselective processing system that may function more or less selectively depending on task demands and linguistic context.

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