Michael Stern Publishes in Brain Sciences

Michael Stern
August 2, 2021

Michael Stern published a paper with co-authors LeeAnn Stover (CUNY Graduate Center), Ernesto Guerra (University of Chile), and Gita Martohardjono (CUNY Graduate Center) entitled “Syntactic and Semantic Influences on the Time Course of Relative Clause Processing: The Role of Language Dominance”. The paper reports the results of a visual world eye-tracking experiment with highly proficient Spanish-English bilingual participants investigating the effects of relative language dominance—operationalized as a continuous, multidimensional variable—on relative clause processing in the first-learned language, Spanish. The results demonstrated two temporally distinct but partially overlapping influences on processing: an early semantic preference to interpret the referents of lexically animate noun phrases as agents, and a later syntactic preference to interpret relative clauses as subject-extracted. Interestingly, language dominance exerted opposite effects on each of these preferences: greater Spanish dominance corresponded with a decrease in the semantic preference and an increase in the syntactic preference. This suggests a possible generalization that greater dominance in a language increases reliance on language-specific syntactic processing strategies while correspondingly decreasing reliance on more domain-general semantic processing strategies.

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