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The pre-attentive L2 orthographic perception mechanism utilised by bilinguals with different proficiency levels

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2017


Language proficiency is predicted to modulate orthographic-semantic association in second language (L2) vocabulary acquisition, in accordance with the assumptions of the Developmental Bilingual Interactive-Activation model (BIA-d) (Grainger et al., 2010). The current study explored this modulation during pre-attentive L2 orthographic perception. ERPs were recorded from Chinese–English bilinguals with different L2 proficiency during their pre-attentive response to deviant and standard stimuli arranged in the oddball paradigm. Two stimulus types were investigated separately: L2 orthography and L1 orthography. In the L2 orthography condition, a MMN-N400 complex (i.e., deviancy effect) was found in the high L2 proficiency bilinguals, but only a marginally significant reduced negativity in an early time window was found in the low L2 proficiency bilinguals. In the L1 orthography condition, the high and low L2 proficiency bilinguals showed similar deviancy effect in the form of MMN-P3a-LPC complex. The current findings suggest that proficiency modulates pre-attentive L2 orthographic perception, such that the high L2 proficiency bilinguals activate the associated semantic representation instantly upon orthographic decoding, while the orthographic-semantic connection is not activated for the low L2 proficiency bilinguals. This is probably due to their difference in the strength of orthographic-semantic association. These findings contribute to the understanding of orthographic processing by bilinguals at the pre-attentive level and provide supporting evidence for the BIA-d model.

    Research areas

  • Chinese–English bilinguals, L2 proficiency, pre-attentive, orthographic perception, orthographicsemantic connection

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