ERP measures of auditory word repetition and translation priming in bilinguals

Brain Res. 2006 Dec 13;1125(1):116-31. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.10.002. Epub 2006 Nov 20.


Motivated by the demonstration of similarly localized adaptation of the hemodynamic response in a first (L1) and second (L2) language, this study examined event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to spoken words in L1 and L2 in 15 English-French bilinguals. We examined whether the temporal pattern of N400 adaptation due to within-language repetitions (i.e., repetition priming) was similar in L1 and L2 and whether the release from adaptation elicited by a within-language word change was similar. Furthermore, using word changes across language, we examined the phonological mismatch negativity (PMN) and N400 components to determine the kind of information activated during translation priming. In contrast to within-language repetition, we expected between-language repetition (i.e., translations) to be characterized by conceptual rather than lexical/phonological word form priming. Overall, the pattern of adaptation and release from adaptation was similar in L1 and L2, with evidence of delayed semantic analysis in L2 in the form of a later N400 effect. A change in language (L1 to L2) elicited a similar pattern of PMN and N400 activity compared to a within-language change in meaning in L1, suggesting that neither word form nor conceptual information was available on-line for the forward translation. In contrast, the presence of strong PMN but minimal N400 effects for L2-to-L1 translations suggests that conceptual but not phonological information is available on-line for backwards translation. L2 proficiency influenced the extent to which conceptual representations were activated by translations. These data are discussed in light of current models of bilingual word processing and suggest modality differences in the pattern of activation of lexical and conceptual information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Contingent Negative Variation / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multilingualism*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Semantics*
  • Translations*
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*