Prolonged L2 immersion engenders little change in morphosyntactic processing of bilingual natives

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Bilingual and monolingual language processing differ, presumably because of constant parallel activation of both languages in bilinguals. We attempt to isolate the effects of parallel activation in a group of German first-language (L1) attriters, who have grown up as monolingual natives before emigrating to an L2 environment. We hypothesized that prolonged immersion will lead to changes in the processing of morphosyntactic violations. Two types of constructions were presented as stimuli in an event-related potential experiment: (1) verb form combinations (auxiliaries+past participles and modals+infinitives) and (2) determiner–noun combinations marked for grammatical gender. L1 attriters showed the same response to violations of gender agreement as monolingual controls (i.e. a significant P600 effect strongest over posterior electrodes). Incorrect verb form combinations also elicited a significant posterior P600 effect in both groups. In attriters, however, there was an additional posterior N400 effect for this type of violation. Such biphasic patterns have been found before in L1 and L2 speakers of English and might reflect the influence of this language. Generally, we interpret our results as evidence for the stability of the deeply entrenched L1 system, even in the face of L2 interference.

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