The temporal dynamics of first and second language processing: ERPs to spoken words in Mandarin-English bilinguals

Document Type


Publication Date






URL with Digital Object Identifier



© 2020 Elsevier Ltd The dynamics of bilingual spoken word recognition remain poorly characterized, especially for individuals who speak two languages that are highly dissimilar in their phonological and morphological structure. The present study compared first language (L1) and second language (L2) spoken word processing within a group of adult Mandarin-English bilinguals (N = 34; ages 18–25). Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while participants completed the same cross-modal matching task separately in their L1 Mandarin and L2 English. This task consisted of deciding whether spoken words matched pictures of items. Pictures and spoken words either matched (e.g., Mandarin: TANG2-tang2; English: BELL-bell), or differed in word-initial phonemes (e.g., Mandarin: TANG2-lang2; English: BELL-shell), word-final phonemes (e.g., Mandarin: TANG2-tao2; English: BELL-bed), or whole words (e.g., Mandarin: TANG2-xia1: English: BELL-ham). Each mismatch type was associated with a pattern of modulation of the Phonological Mapping Negativity, the N400, and the Late N400 that was distinct from those of the other mismatch types yet similar between the two languages. This was interpreted as evidence of incremental processing with similar temporal dynamics in both languages. These findings support models of spoken word recognition in bilingual individuals that adopt an interactive-activation framework for both L1 and L2 processing.


This article is paywalled; please seek access through your institution's library

Find in your library