Doctoral Dissertation Research: Using syntactic priming to identify cross-language constraints in bilingual language processing

Project: Research project

Project Details


A hallmark of bilingual language processing is the parallel activation of the two languages during the use of only one language in production comprehension. In order to select a word in a single language from the myriad of co-activated words, bilinguals exploit an exquisite mechanism of language control that may come to affect cognitive and executive function. However, the exact nature of this mechanism is unknown. With National Science Foundation support, Mr. Jason Gullifer will collect data for his dissertation under the direction of Drs. Judith Kroll and Paola Dussias. Using an array of experimental methodologies, including behavioral and electrophysiological measures, Gullifer and colleagues will investigate whether differences in sentence structure between English and Spanish can function as a cue enabling bilingual speakers of those two languages to make a language choice during comprehension. Reaction times to name words in the context of sentences and brain potentials time-locked to the presentation of those words will be used to test the hypothesis that structural differences between languages can influence the degree of language co-activation. An independent behavioral experiment utilizing a method to measure cross-language syntactic priming will be used to determine the degree of representational overlap of each of the structures between Spanish and English, revealing the relationship between the degree of cross-language overlap and language co-activation.

The funded research has a number of broader impacts. Increasing diversity makes it important to learn a second language to enhance communication. The biological basis of second language learning was identified in 2005 in the AAAS publication 'Science' as one of the top 125 questions for scientific inquiry over the next quarter-century. The proposed research informs language learning by advancing models of language comprehension and production. Learning a second language also confers benefits to cognition, and the funded research will identify one mechanism by which language selection is achieved, helping to answer the question of how bilingualism impacts cognition. The proposed research includes a component for the mentorship of undergraduate research assistants by involving individuals who have been historically underrepresented in scientific research.

Effective start/end date9/1/138/31/15


  • National Science Foundation: $17,513.00


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