Syntactic processing in two languages by native and bilingual adult readers: An ERP study

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The present study examined differences in brain activity, specifically in event-related potential (ERP) amplitudes and latencies in bilingual (English/Hebrew and Hebrew/English) readers when processing the grammatical functions of words during reading of sentences in two languages. Twenty-six bilingual university students (later bilinguals) participated in the study: 10 native English speakers and 16 native speakers of Hebrew. Two points were investigated: (1) differences between syntactic processing strategies in English and Hebrew as first and second languages, and (2) differences in activation patterns in sentence processing between the two groups of participants in the two languages. Results indicate significant differences in reading-related measures (e.g., decoding) between Hebrew speakers reading in English and vice versa, but not in the reading itself in both languages (i.e., rate, accuracy, and reading comprehension). In both groups of participants, P100, P200, P300, N400, and P600 ERP waves were identified for three grammatical functions (subject, predicate, and direct object) in each sentence, in all reading items, and in both languages. Analysis of the results showed that participants used the same mixed strategy to identify the grammatical role of words in both languages. This strategy included elements of both word-order and verb-oriented (morphologically based) patterns of processing. The article suggests that the reason for using this strategy is suggested lies in the properties of the experimental paradigm and in the characteristics of participants (age and level of experience in the two languages). The most important outcome of the study was revealing the significant differences in patterns of brain activation between native speakers of Hebrew and English and between patterns of brain activation when both groups process words in the two languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-373
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work has been supported by Israel Scientific Foundation (ISF), Grant (9812).


  • Bilingualism
  • ERP
  • English
  • Hebrew
  • Syntactic processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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