Research

electrophysiological and Brain Imaging Photo

Currently, our primary research projects are three separate but related experiments that examine behavioral (e.g., accuracy on spoken language tasks), electrophysiological (event-related potentials, ERPs) and brain imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI) data in order to provide evidence regarding how various factors interact and lead to different patterns in second language comprehension and production. Below is a brief description of these projects:

Adult second language acquisition: Effects of explicit versus implicit training. This project expands upon Kara Morgan-Short’s previous research and uses an artificial language paradigm to explore training, proficiency and cognitive factors in adult second language acquisition. Second language learners receive explicit or implicit training on an artificial language and then practice using the language by playing a computer-based board game. Assessment of grammatical (syntactic) processing is examined at two proficiency levels within subjects using multiple methods, including behavioral (accuracy on sentence acceptability judgments) and fMRI (engagement of neural substrates at different proficiency levels as affected by explicit or implicit language training). The use of the artificial language is advantageous in that it allows for tight experimental control that is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with natural languages, e.g., implementing a within subject design that examines language processing at low and high proficiency. This project is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Patrick Wong (Northwestern University).

A longitudinal examination of Spanish second language acquisition. This project examines the factors of linguistic form, proficiency and cognitive abilities by examining processing of words (lexical processing) and of different aspects of grammar (morphosyntactic and syntactic processing) in second language learners who are currently enrolled in university-level Spanish courses. This longitudinal study uses behavioral and ERP measures to assess second language development within subjects over the course of two years of study and explores the role that individual cognitive abilities play during development of a natural second language. Whereas the artificial language study is characterized by tight experimental control, this project is characterized by high ecological validity.

Heritage Language Processing. This project explores the dimension of proficiency and linguistic formby examining words (lexical processing) and different aspects of grammar (morphosyntactic and syntactic processing) using behavioral and ERP measures. This is the first neurolinguistic study to examine language processing in heritage speakers of Spanish, i.e., speakers who had exposure to Spanish in their home but whose dominant language is English. This project is being carried out in collaboration with Drs. Harriet Wood Bowden (University of Tennessee) and Kim Potowski (UIC).

Overall, complementary sets of data from these studies are expected to be informative to theoretical models of adult second language acquisition (within and across the fields of linguistics, cognitive psychology and neuroscience) and to have significant implications for language teaching and learning. Finally, in the long term, they may have implications for language recovery in adults who have suffered an injury or disease that affects language comprehension and/or production, e.g., aphasia, Alzheimer’s.

Our lab is equipped with three Dell computers, stimuli presentation software (Eprime2), a sound attenuated booth (International Acoustics Company), and a complete EEG/ERP system (asa-lab, Advanced Neuro Technology).