Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton May 13, 2017

The N400 as a window into lexico-semantic processing in bilingualism

Katarzyna Jankowiak and Karolina Rataj

Abstract

Event related potentials (ERPs) have frequently been employed to investigate language comprehension. One of the best researched language-related ERP components is the N400, which is sensitive to various linguistic factors (e.g. plausibility, word frequency, predictability, word-level associations), and is therefore commonly referred to as an index of lexico-semantic memory. Systematic research into electrophysiological indexes of lexico-semantic processing in bilingualism and its comparison with existing monolingual research remains a crucial research avenue. This review synthesizes the literature on the N400 effects observed in bilingual language comprehension studies in the context of selected models of bilingual lexico-semantic processing (i.e. RHM, BIA+), points to potential reasons behind some contradictory results, presents current trends in ERP bilingual research, identifies gaps in this area of research, and, finally, proposes future research directions.

References

Allen, M., W. Badecker and L. Osterhout. 2003. “Morphological analysis in sentence processing: An ERP study”. Language and Cognitive Processes 18. 405–430.10.1080/01690960244000054Search in Google Scholar

Alvarez, R.P., P.J. Holcomb and J. Grainger. 2003. “Accessing word meaning in two languages: An event-related brain potential study of beginning bilinguals”. Brain and Language 87. 290–304.10.1016/S0093-934X(03)00108-1Search in Google Scholar

Ardal, S., M.W. Donald, R. Meuter, S. Muldrew and M. Luce. 1990. “Brain responses to semantic incongruity in bilinguals”. Brain and Language 39. 187–205.10.1016/0093-934X(90)90011-5Search in Google Scholar

Arzouan, Y., A. Goldstein and M. Faust. 2007. “Brainwaves are stethoscopes: ERP correlates of novel metaphor comprehension”. Brain Research 1160. 69–81.10.1016/j.brainres.2007.05.034Search in Google Scholar

Bialystok, E. 2010. “Bilingualism”. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science 1(4). 559–572.10.1002/wcs.43Search in Google Scholar

Braunstein, V., A. Ischebeck, C. Brunner, R.H. Grabner, M. Stamenov and C. Neuper. 2012. “Investigating the influence of proficiency on semantic processing in bilinguals: An ERP and ERD/S analysis”. Acta NeurobiologiaeExperimental 72. 421–438.Search in Google Scholar

Brown, C. and P. Hagoort. 1993. “The processing nature of the N400: Evidence from masked priming”. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 5. 34–44.10.1162/jocn.1993.5.1.34Search in Google Scholar

Brysbaert, M. 1998. “Word recognition in bilinguals: Evidence against the existence of two separate lexicons”. Psychologica Belgica 38. 163–175.10.5334/pb.932Search in Google Scholar

Brysbaert, M. and T. Dijkstra. 2006. “Changing views on word recognition in bilingualism”. In: Morais, J. and G. d’Ydewalle (eds.), Bilingualism and second language acquisition. Brussels: KVAB. 25–37.Search in Google Scholar

Casaponsa, A., M. Carreiras and J.A. Duñabeitia. 2015. “How do bilinguals identify the language of the words they read?” Brain Research 1624. 153–166.10.1016/j.brainres.2015.07.035Search in Google Scholar

Coderre, E.L. and W.J.B. van Heuven. 2014. “Electrophysiological explorations of the bilingual advantage: Evidence from a Stroop task”. PLOS ONE 9(7). 1–15.10.1371/journal.pone.0103424Search in Google Scholar

Comesaña, M., R. Sanchez-Casas, A.P. Soares, A.P. Pinheiro, A. Rauber, S. Frade and I. Fraga. 2012. “The interplay of phonology and orthography in visual cognate word recognition: An ERP study”. Neuroscience Letters 529. 75–79.10.1016/j.neulet.2012.09.010Search in Google Scholar

Costa, A., M. Santesteban and A. Cano. 2005. “On the facilitatory effects of cognates in bilingual speech production”. Brain and Language 94. 94–103.10.1016/j.bandl.2004.12.002Search in Google Scholar

Deacon, D., A. Dynowska, W. Ritter and J. Grose-Fifer. 2004. “Repetition and semantic priming of nonwords: Implications for theories of N400 and word recognition”. Psychophysiology 28. 185–200.10.1111/1469-8986.00120Search in Google Scholar

Dijkstra, T. and W.J.B. van Heuven. 1998. “The BIA model and the bilingual visual word recognition”. In: Grainger, J. and A.M. Jacobs (eds.), Localist connectionist approaches to human cognition. Mahwah, NJ: Earlbaum Associates. 189–225.Search in Google Scholar

Dijkstra, T. and W.J.B. van Heuven. 2002. “The architecture of the bilingual word recognition system: From identification to decision”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 5. 175–197.10.1017/S1366728902003012Search in Google Scholar

Dijkstra, T., W.J.B. van Heuven and J. Grainger. 1998. “Simulating crosslanguage competition with the bilingual interactive activation model”. Psychologica Belgica 38. 177–196.10.5334/pb.933Search in Google Scholar

Duñabeitia, J.A., M. Dimitropoulou, O. Uribe-Etxebarria, I. Laka and M. Carreiras. 2010. “Electrophysiological correlates of the masked translation priming effect with highly proficient simultaneous bilinguals”. Brain Research 1359. 142–154.10.1016/j.brainres.2010.08.066Search in Google Scholar

Foucart, A., C.D. Martin, E.M. Moreno and A. Costa. 2014. “Can bilinguals see it coming? Word anticipation in L2 sentence reading”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 40(5). 1461–1469.10.1037/a0036756Search in Google Scholar

Geyer, A., P.J. Holcomb, K.J. Midgley and J. Grainger. 2011. “Processing words in two languages: An event-related potential study of proficient bilinguals”. Journal of Neurolinguistics 24. 338–351.10.1016/j.jneuroling.2010.10.005Search in Google Scholar

Heidlmayr, K., B. Hemforth, S. Moutier and F. Isel. 2015. “Neurodynamics of executive control processes in bilinguals: Evidence from ERP and source reconstruction analyses”. Frontiers in Psychology 6(821). 1–17.10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00821Search in Google Scholar

Holcomb, P.J., J. Grainer and T. O’Rourke. 2002. “An electrophysiological study of the effects of orthographic neighborhood size on printed word perception”. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 14. 938–950.10.1162/089892902760191153Search in Google Scholar

Hoshino, N. and G. Thierry. 2012. “Do Spanish-English bilinguals have their fingers in two pies – or is it their toes? An electrophysiological investigation of semantic access in bilinguals”. Frontiers in Psychology 3(9). 1–6.10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00009Search in Google Scholar

Hoshino, N., K.J. Midgley, P.J. Holcomb and J. Grainger. 2010. “An ERP investigation of masked cross-script priming”. Brain Research 1344. 159–172.10.1016/j.brainres.2010.05.005Search in Google Scholar

Jouravlev, O. and D. Jared. 2014. “Reading Russian-English homographs in sentence contexts: Evidence from ERPs”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 17(1). 153–168.10.1017/S1366728913000205Search in Google Scholar

Kerkhofs, R., T. Dijkstra, D.J. Chwilla and E.R.A. de Bruijn. 2006. “Testing a model for bilingual semantic priming with interlingual homographs: RT and N400 effects”. Brain Research 1068. 170–183.10.1016/j.brainres.2005.10.087Search in Google Scholar

Kotz, S.A. and K. Elston-Güttler. 2004. “The role of proficiency on processing categorical and associative information in the L1 as revealed by reaction times and event-related brain potentials”. Journal of Neurolinguistics 17. 215–235.10.1016/S0911-6044(03)00058-7Search in Google Scholar

Kotz, S.A., K. Rothermich and M. Schmidt-Kassow. 2012. “Sentence comprehension in healthy and brain-damaged populations”. In: Faust, M. (ed.), The handbook of the neuropsychology of language. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. 760–777.10.1002/9781118432501.ch37Search in Google Scholar

Kroll, J.F. and E. Stewart. 1994. “Category interference in translation and picture naming: Evidence for asymmetric connections between bilingual memory representations”. Journal of Memory and Language 33. 149–174.10.1006/jmla.1994.1008Search in Google Scholar

Kroll, J.F., E. Michael, N. Tokowicz and R. Dufour. 2002. “The development of lexical fluency in a second language”. Second Language Research 18(2). 137–171.10.1191/0267658302sr201oaSearch in Google Scholar

Kutas, M. and K.D. Federmeier. 2000. “Electrophysiology reveals semantic memory use in language comprehension”. Trends in Cognitive Science 4. 463–470.10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01560-6Search in Google Scholar

Kutas, M. and K.D. Federmeier. 2011. “Thirty years and continuing: Finding meaning in the N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP)”. Annual Review of Psychology 62. 621–647.10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.131123Search in Google Scholar

Kutas, M. and S.A. Hillyard. 1980. “Event-related brain potentials to semantically inappropriate and surprisingly large words”. Biological Psychology 11(2). 99–116.10.1016/0301-0511(80)90046-0Search in Google Scholar

Kutas, M. and S.A. Hillyard. 1983. “Event-related brain potentials to grammatical errors and semantic anomalies”. Memory and Cognition 11(5). 539–550.10.3758/BF03196991Search in Google Scholar

Kutas, M. and S.A. Hillyard. 1984. “Brain potentials during reading reflect word expectancy and semantic association”. Nature 307. 161–163.10.1038/307161a0Search in Google Scholar

Lai, V.T., Curran, T. and L. Menn. 2009. “Comprehending conventional and novel metaphors: An ERP study”. Brain Research 1284. 145–155.10.1016/j.brainres.2009.05.088Search in Google Scholar

Laszlo, S. and K.D. Federmeier. 2009. “A beautiful day in the neighborhood: An event-related potential study of lexical relationships and prediction in context”. Journal of Memory and Language 61. 326–338.10.1016/j.jml.2009.06.004Search in Google Scholar

Lehtonen, M., A. Hulten, A. Rodriguez-Fornells, T. Cunillera, J. Tuomainen and M. Laine. 2012. “Differences in word recognition between early bilinguals and monolinguals: Behavioral and ERP evidence”. Neuropsychologia 50. 1362–1371.10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.02.021Search in Google Scholar

Lemhöfer, K., T. Dijkstra, H. Schriefers, R.H. Baayen, J. Grainger and P. Zwitserlood. 2008. “Native language influences on word recognition in a second language: A mega study”. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 34. 12–31.Search in Google Scholar

Martin, C.D., B. Dering, E.M. Thomas and G. Thierry. 2009. “Brain potentials reveal semantic priming in both the ‘active’ and the ‘non-attended’ language of early bilinguals”. NeuroImage 47. 326–333.10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.04.025Search in Google Scholar

Martin, C.D., G. Thierry, J.-R. Kuipers, B. Boutonnet, A. Foucart and A. Costa. 2013. “Bilinguals reading in their second language do not predict upcoming words as native speakers do”. Journal of Memory and Language 69. 574–588.10.1016/j.jml.2013.08.001Search in Google Scholar

McClelland, J.L. and D.E. Rumelhart. 1981. “An interactive activation model of context effects in letter perception: Part 1. An account of basic findings”. Psychological Review 88(5). 375–407.10.1016/B978-1-4832-1446-7.50048-0Search in Google Scholar

McLaughlin, J., L. Osterhout and A. Kim. 2004. “Neural correlates of second-language word learning: Minimal instruction produces rapid change”. Nature Neuroscience 7(7). 703–704.10.1038/nn1264Search in Google Scholar

Midgley, K.J., P.J. Holcomb and J. Grainger. 2009a. “Masked repetition and translation priming in second language learners: A window on the time-course of form and meaning activation using ERPs”. Psychophysiology 46. 551–565.10.1111/j.1469-8986.2009.00784.xSearch in Google Scholar

Midgley, K.J., P.J. Holcomb and J. Grainger. 2009b. “Language effects in second language learners and proficient bilinguals investigated with event-related potentials”. Journal of Neurolinguistics 22. 281–300.10.1016/j.jneuroling.2008.08.001Search in Google Scholar

Midgley, K.J., P.J. Holcomb, W.J.B. van Heuven and J. Grainger. 2008. “An electrophysiological investigation of cross-language effects of orthographic neighborhood”. Brain Research 1246. 123–135.10.1016/j.brainres.2008.09.078Search in Google Scholar

Moldovan, C.D., J. Demestre, P. Ferré and R. Sánchez-Casas. 2016. “The role of meaning and form similarity in translation recognition in highly proficient balanced bilinguals: A behavioral and ERP study”. Journal of Neurolinguistics 37. 1–11.10.1016/j.jneuroling.2015.07.002Search in Google Scholar

Moreno, E.M. and M. Kutas. 2005. “Processing semantic anomalies in two languages: an electrophysiological exploration in both languages of Spanish-English bilinguals”. Cognitive Brain Research 22. 205–220.10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2004.08.010Search in Google Scholar

Moreno, E.M., A. Rodriguez-Fornells and M. Laine. 2008. “Event-related potentials (ERPs) in the study of bilingual language processing”. Journal of Neurolinguistics 21. 477–508.10.1016/j.jneuroling.2008.01.003Search in Google Scholar

Newman, A.J., A. Tremblay, E.S. Nichols, H.J. Neville and M.T. Ullman. 2012. “The influence of language proficiency on lexical semantic processing in native and late learners of English”. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 24(5). 1205–1223.10.1162/jocn_a_00143Search in Google Scholar

Ng, S. and N.Y.Y. Wicha. 2013. “Meaning first: A case for language-independent access to word meaning in the bilingual brain”. Neuropsychologia 51. 850–863.10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.01.017Search in Google Scholar

Palmer, S.D., J.C. van Hooff and J. Havelka. 2010. “Language representation and processing in fluent bilinguals: Electrophysiological evidence for asymmetric mapping in bilingual memory”. Neuropsychologia 48. 1426–1437.10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.01.010Search in Google Scholar

Paulmann, S., Z. Ghareeb-Ali and C. Felser. 2015. “Neuropsychological markers of phrasal verbs processing: Evidence from L1 and L2 speakers”. In: Heredia, R.R. and A.B. Cieślicka (eds.), Bilingual figurative language processing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 197–213.10.1017/CBO9781139342100.013Search in Google Scholar

Peeters, D., T. Dijkstra and J. Grainger. 2013. “The representation and processing of identical cognates by late bilinguals: RT and ERP effects”. Journal of Memory and Language 68. 315–332.10.1016/j.jml.2012.12.003Search in Google Scholar

Phillips, N.A., N. Segalowitz, I. O’Brien and N. Yamasaki. 2004. “Semantic priming in a first and second language: Evidence from reaction time variability and event-related brain potentials”. Journal of Neurolinguistics 17. 237–262.10.1016/S0911-6044(03)00055-1Search in Google Scholar

Potter, M.C., K.F. So, B. Von Eckardt and L. Feldman. 1984. “Lexical and conceptual representation in beginning and proficient bilinguals”. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 23(1). 23–38.10.1016/S0022-5371(84)90489-4Search in Google Scholar

Proverbio, A.M., B. Cok and A. Zani. 2002. “Electrophysiological measures of language processing in bilinguals”. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 14(7). 994–1017.10.1162/089892902320474463Search in Google Scholar

Pu, H., P.J. Holcomb and K.J. Midgley. 2016. “Neural changes underlying early stages of L2 vocabulary acquisition”. Journal of Neurolinguistics 40. 55–65.10.1016/j.jneuroling.2016.05.002Search in Google Scholar

Rataj, K. 2014. “Surfing the brainwaves of metaphor comprehension”. Poznań Studies in Contemporary Linguistics 50(1). 55–73.10.1515/psicl-2014-0004Search in Google Scholar

Rodriguez-Fornells, A., M. Rotte, H.-J. Heinze, T. Nösselt and T.F. Münte. 2002. “Brain potential and functional MRI evidence for how to handle two languages with one brain”. Nature 415. 1026–1029.10.1038/4151026aSearch in Google Scholar

Rutter, B., S. Kroger, H. Hill, S. Windmann, C. Hermann and A. Abraham. 2012. “Can clouds dance? Part 2: An ERP investigation of passive conceptual expansion”. Brain and Cognition 80. 301–310.10.1016/j.bandc.2012.08.003Search in Google Scholar

Talamas, A., J.F. Kroll and R. Dufour. 1999. “From form to meaning: Stages in the acquisition of second-language vocabulary”. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 2(1). 45–58.10.1017/S1366728999000140Search in Google Scholar

Thierry, G. and Y.J. Wu. 2007. “Brain potentials reveal unconscious translation during foreign-language comprehension”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104(30). 12530–12535.10.1073/pnas.0609927104Search in Google Scholar

van Heuven, W.J.B. and T. Dijkstra. 2010. “Language comprehension in the bilingual brain: fMRI and ERP support for psycholinguistic models”. Brain Research Reviews 64. 104–122.10.1016/j.brainresrev.2010.03.002Search in Google Scholar

van Kesteren, R., T. Dijkstra and K. de Smedt. 2012. “Markedness effects in Norwegian–English bilinguals: Task-dependent use of language-specific letters and bigrams”. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 65(11). 2129–2154.10.1080/17470218.2012.679946Search in Google Scholar

Weber-Fox, C. and H.J. Neville. 1996. “Maturational constraints on functional specializations for language processing: ERP and behavioral evidence in bilingual speakers”. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 8(3). 231–256.10.1162/jocn.1996.8.3.231Search in Google Scholar

Yum, Y.N., K.J. Midgley, P.J. Holcomb and J. Grainger. 2014. “An ERP study on initial second language vocabulary learning”. Psychophysiology 51. 364–373.10.1111/psyp.12183Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2017-5-13
Published in Print: 2017-5-24

© 2017 Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland

Scroll Up Arrow