Second language acquisition in 6- to 8-year-old native Spanish-speaking children: ERP studies of phonological awareness, semantics, and syntax

Annika Andersson

Forskningsoutput: AvhandlingDoktorsavhandling (monografi)


Most people in the world and about a fifth of all school-aged Americans speak at
least two languages. Nevertheless, little is known about second language (L2) processing
in development, even though language proficiency is strongly related to success in almost
all domains. Whereas behavioral studies of L2 acquisition in children are abundant,
neurocognitive studies of L2 processing typically are limited to adults with several years
of exposure, who may use general cognitive mechanisms to compensate for any
difficulties in L2 processing.
Research on bilingual adults suggests that age of acquisition (AoA) and proficiency
have different effects on different aspects of L2 processing. The present study therefore
recorded event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in order to index processes of phonological
awareness (Rhyming effect: RE), semantics (N400), and syntax (LAN, P600) in bilingual
and monolingual children 6-8 years of age. Even though behaviorally, bilingual children
with an average AoA of 4 years had lower English proficiency than monolingual children,
proficiency predicted similar differences in ERPs across groups: greater proficiency was
linked with shorter latencies and higher amplitudes of all ERP components. Latency in
these cases represents speed of processing while amplitude of ERP effects in children can
be thought of as an indication of detection of the introduced violations.
The appearance of the anterior rhyming effect, latency of the posterior rhyming
effect, along with the distribution of the anterior ERP effect for phrase structure
violations were related to AoA. More specifically, bilingual 6- to 8-year olds of higher
English proficiency processed rhyming nonwords slower than 3- to 5-year-old
monolingual children, which could have a strong impact on later vocabulary acquisition.
Differences across lingualism groups in distribution of the anterior negativity elicited by
phrase structure violations could indicate different neural generators for processing of
syntax. Noteworthy is that differences in processing as illustrated by these ERP effects
were recorded even though in both these cases bilingual children’s English proficiency
were within the normal range expected of monolingual children of similar age. Early
acquisition was thus important for processing of rhyming and for more automatic
syntactic processing as revealed by differences in the anterior negativity.
Tilldelande institution
  • University of Oregon
  • Baldwin, Dare, handledare, Extern person
Tilldelningsdatum2012 maj 4
StatusPublished - 2012
Externt publiceradJa

Bibliografisk information

Defence details

Date: 2012-05-04
Time: 09:00
Place: University of Oregon

External reviewer(s)

Name: Vogel, Edward
Title: [unknown]
Affiliation: Psychology Department


At the University of Oregon you do not have an opponent instead you have a committee. The committee members were Dr Edward Vogel (Cognitive Neuroscience/Psychology department), Dr Ulrich Mayer (Cognition, Psychology department), Dr Eric Pederson (Linguistic department) and my advisor Dr Dare Baldwin (Developmental psychology, Psychology department)

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Jämförande språkvetenskap och lingvistik


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