Penn State PIRE Program People


The PIRE research that we have proposed here aims at answering foundational questions about language, cognition, and the brain: How is language use changed by contact with a second language? How do the two linguistic systems compete during learning, representation, and speech production? How does that competition tell us about brain plasticity of the learning mechanism? What are the cognitive and neural processes that control the bilingual's ability to negotiate potential competition between the two languages? As discussed above, each of these questions exploits crossdisciplinary methodologies, makes use of comparative subject populations, and relies on the unique complimentary expertise of the PIRE faculty and our partners. These collaborations provide a foundation for the new science of bilingualism. Our PIRE research not only examines issues that are central to bilingualism, but also serves to use bilingualism as an entry point into the workings of the mind and to situate bilingual research within the mainstream of the cognitive and brain sciences.

The PIRE projects are organized around three central themes:

A. Competition and convergence across two grammatical systems;
B. Computational and neurocognitive studies of second language learning; and
C. Cross-language interactions and their cognitive consequences.

A. Competition and convergence across grammatical systems.

(Dussias, US; Bajo, Spain; Van Hell, US, The Netherlands; Deuchar, Wales; Jackson, US; Gullberg, The Netherlands; Rossi, US)

Two lines of research, one with proficient bilinguals, and one with L2 learners, examine the way in which grammatical forms are acquired and used in an L2 and the way in which proficient bilinguals resolve potential conflicts when the grammars of the L1 and L2 conflict.

A.1. Sentence processing.

A.2. The "Germanic languages" project: Sentence processing in L2 learners and proficient bilinguals.

Illustrative Projects

PIRE project: Kyra Krass (Rossi, E).

The role of discourse context in pronoun resolution". Do speakers rely on linguistic information provided in the discourse context to process morpho-syntactic information? Is context exploited similarly in the L1 and in the L2? We asked these questions by investigating how native Spanish speakers and English L2 learners of Spanish resolve local violations between a pronoun and its antecedent, and how linguistic information provided in the context can modulate this process.

PIRE project: Felix Huitian (Granada, 2015).

Speech is processed in light of prior experience, which can lead to adjustment of the acoustic signal during perception, e.g. perceptual warping of phonetic categories, or repair of illegal sequences of categories. But what happens when a bilingual's language experience includes conflicting patterns? We are exploring how bilinguals perceive of sequences that are legal in one of their languages, but not the other, and whether the influence of the non-target language on the target language is modulated by bilinguals' language use patterns across different contexts. Huitian, F. & Carlson, M. T. (2015). Priming phonotactic constraints in bilingual speech perception. Poster presented at the 2015 Penn State Undergraduate Research Exhibition.

Learning vocabulary and grammatical gender: A study with novice Swedish and English L2 learners of German (Julia Hotchner, Carrie Jackson, Marianne Gullberg; Lund Sweden)

In this study we investigated the initial stages of L2 learning by investigating how item-based variables (cognates vs. non-cognates) and participant-based variables (L1 English vs. L1 Swedish speakers) influenced the learning of German nouns and their grammatical gender. After a 10-minute training unit, both participant groups were better at recalling cognate nouns and their gender than non-cognate nouns, indicating that cognate facilitation effects can extend to the learning of L2 grammatical features. The L1 Swedish speakers were also better overall than the L1 English speakers, a finding we attribute to the fact that having grammatical gender in their L1 Swedish facilitated learning gender in a new language.

Cue additivity in predictive processing of word order in German (Nick Henry, Carrie Jackson, Holger Hopp: Mannheim, Germany)

Using the visual world paradigm, this study investigated the processing of subject- and object-first sentences in German and whether the inclusion of prosodic cues, operationalized as a pitch accent on the first noun in object-first sentences and the second noun in subject-first sentences, facilitated real-time processing. Results show that contrastive prosody can be used to launch earlier looks to the correct referent and predict with higher confidence. At the same time, the additive use of prosodic cues to predict upcoming sentential arguments varied based on when in the experiment prosodic cues were introduced, suggesting that speakers can attend to multiple cues during real-time language comprehension, but comprehension/prediction strategies are malleable and influenced by the task or situation.

B. Computational, neurocognitive, and statistical learning studies of second language learning.

(Li, US; Tan, China; Shu, China; Weiss, US; van Hell, US, The Netherlands; Rossi, US; Carlson, US; ).

Why is it so much easier for children than for adults to acquire a foreign language? What are the cognitive and neural underpinnings for this difference? We address these issues from a variety of perspectives, with both computational and neurocognitive approaches.

B.1. Computational and neurocognitive approaches.

B.2. Statistical learning of novel words and phonology

Illustrative Projects

PIRE project: Nick Anderegg (Rossi, E; Carlson, M supervisors).

"Effects of L1 orthography on L2 phonological acquisition". How does the orthography in our native language impact how we learn a second language? We addressed this question by teaching novel words to native Chinese (a syllabic-based language) and native English (a phoneme-based language) speakers. In the critical condition the novel words contained a phoneme that could be approximated to the native language. We hypothesized that English speakers who rely on a phoneme-based language at the orthographic level will be more sensitive to the manipulation than native Chinese speakers who map sounds within a syllable at the orthographic level.

C. Cross-language interactions and their cognitive consequences.

(Kroll, US; Van Hell, US and The Netherlands; Bajo; Spain; Costa, Spain; Morford and Allen, NSF VL2 Gallaudet).

A discovery about L2 learning, to which our team has contributed, is that it is virtually impossible for bilinguals to completely switch off one language when using the other [52]. It was once believed that this was true only during early stages of L2 learning, when the L1 is highly active. This research demonstrates that both languages are active for even proficient bilinguals, suggesting that although the nature of cross-language competition may change with developing L2 skill, the lexicon and grammar of the two languages produce mutual influences. These influences also modulate the way in which the native language is used, so that bilinguals differ from monolinguals in both languages.

C.1. Negotiating cross-language competition: Behavioral and neurocognitive indices of language processing and their cognitive consequences

C.2. Spoken production in two dialects vs. two languages.

C.3. Bimodal bilingualism in a spoken and signed language.