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Effects of Development and Non-native Language Exposure on the Semantic Processing of Native Language in Preschoolers

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Abstract

We used event-related potentials (ERPs) to investigate the effects of non-native language (English) exposure in first-, second-, and third-year (4- to 6-year-old) preschool Japanese native children while they listened to semantically congruent and incongruent Japanese sentences. Our previous study (Takahashi et al., in press) showed that differences owing to exposure to a non-native language (English) appeared in second-year preschoolers but not in first-year preschoolers; in second-year preschoolers, the N400 onset was shorter in the children who were exposed to English than in those who were exposed to Japanese only. In the present study, we compared the ERPs recorded from each of the 3 preschool years to investigate the long-term effects of exposure to a non-native language on the development of semantic processing of the native language. The children were divided into a high degree of non-native language-exposed group (high group) and a low degree of non-native language-exposed group (low group) on the basis of their exposure to a non-native language in their kindergartens. The results showed that the N400 was observed in all age groups, whereas late positive components (LPCs) were only observed in third-year preschoolers. The effects of non-native language exposure on ERP waveforms were observed in the second- and third-year preschoolers. In second-year preschoolers, the latency of the N400 was shorter in the high group than in the low group, whereas there was no difference in the N400 offset between the high and low groups. Furthermore, the broad distribution of the N400 persisted longer in the high group than in the low group. In third-year preschoolers, the duration of the LPC was longer in the high group than in the low group. These results indicate that both the N400 and LPC are related to semantic processing for native language sentences in preschool children and that the waveforms of these components vary depending on the development and degree of exposure to a non-native language.
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... The participants were tested individually in a quiet room at school or at a center for speech, language, and hearing impairment. In line with other linguistic ERP studies in young children (Oberecker & Friederici, 2006;Takahashi et al., 2011), we used visual stimuli to keep the children's attention during the experiment. ...
... A potential limitation of the present study is the use of silent video clips to keep children sitting still while listening to the sentences. Visual stimuli to keep children's attention during the experiment are common in linguistic ERP studies in young children (Oberecker & Friederici, 2006;Takahashi et al., 2011). However, the video clips might have interacted with the N400; adding these visual stimuli may have, unintentionally, drawn less attention to the auditory stimuli in the SLI group. ...
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Purpose: Given the complexity of sentence processing and the specific problems that children with specific language impairment (SLI) experience, we investigated the time course and characteristics of semantic processing at the sentence level in Dutch preschoolers with SLI. Method: We measured N400 responses to semantically congruent and incongruent spoken sentences (e.g., "My father is eating an apple/*blanket") in a group of 37 Dutch preschoolers with SLI and in a group of 25 typically developing (TD) peers. We compared the time course and amplitude of the N400 effect between the two groups. Results: The TD group showed a strong posterior N400 effect in time windows 300-500 ms and 500-800 ms. In contrast, the SLI group demonstrated only a reliable N400 effect in the later time window, 500-800 ms, and did not show a stronger presence at posterior electrodes. Conclusion: The findings suggest that the neuronal processing of semantic information at sentence level is atypical in preschoolers with SLI compared with TD children.
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