Foreign-accented speaker identity affects neural correlates of language comprehension

Sarah Grey, Janet G. van Hell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


This study tested semantic and grammatical processing of native- and foreign-accented speech. Monolinguals with little experience with foreign-accented speech listened to sentences spoken by foreign-accented and native-accented speakers while their brain activity was recorded using EEG/ERPs. We gathered behavioral measures of sentence comprehension, language attitudes, and accent perception. Behavioral results showed that listeners were highly accurate in comprehending both native- and foreign-accented sentences. ERP results showed that grammatical and semantic violations elicited different neural responses in native versus foreign accented speech. Native-accented speech elicited a frontal negativity (Nref) for grammatical violations and a robust N400 for semantic violations. However, in foreign-accented speech only semantic (not grammatical) violations elicited an ERP effect, a late negativity. Closer inspection of listeners who did and who did not correctly identify the foreign accent revealed that listeners who identified the foreign accent showed ERP responses for both grammatical and semantic errors: an N400-like effect to grammatical errors and a late negativity to semantic errors. In contrast, listeners who did not correctly identify the foreign accent showed no ERP responses to grammatical errors in the foreign-accented condition, but did show a late negativity to semantic errors. These findings provide novel insights into understanding the effects of listener experience and foreign-accented speaker identity on the neural correlates of language processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-108
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
StatePublished - May 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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