Penn State PIRE Program People


The PIRE research that we have proposed here aims at answering foundational questions about language, cognition, and the brain: How is language use changed by contact with a second language? How do the two linguistic systems compete during learning, representation, and speech production? How does that competition tell us about brain plasticity of the learning mechanism? What are the cognitive and neural processes that control the bilingual's ability to negotiate potential competition between the two languages? As discussed above, each of these questions exploits crossdisciplinary methodologies, makes use of comparative subject populations, and relies on the unique complimentary expertise of the PIRE faculty and our partners. These collaborations provide a foundation for the new science of bilingualism. Our PIRE research not only examines issues that are central to bilingualism, but also serves to use bilingualism as an entry point into the workings of the mind and to situate bilingual research within the mainstream of the cognitive and brain sciences.

The PIRE projects are organized around three central themes:

A. Competition and convergence across two grammatical systems;
B. Computational and neurocognitive studies of second language learning; and
C. Cross-language interactions and their cognitive consequences.

A. Competition and convergence across grammatical systems.

(Dussias, US; Bajo, Spain; Van Hell, US, The Netherlands; Deuchar, Wales; Jackson, US; Gullberg, The Netherlands)

Two lines of research, one with proficient bilinguals, and one with L2 learners, examine the way in which grammatical forms are acquired and used in an L2 and the way in which proficient bilinguals resolve potential conflicts when the grammars of the L1 and L2 conflict.

A.1. Sentence processing.

A.2. The "Germanic languages" project: Sentence processing in L2 learners and proficient bilinguals.

B. Computational, neurocognitive, and statistical learning studies of second language learning.

(Li, US; Tan, China; Shu, China; Weiss, US; van Hell, US, The Netherlands).

Why is it so much easier for children than for adults to acquire a foreign language? What are the cognitive and neural underpinnings for this difference? We address these issues from a variety of perspectives, with both computational and neurocognitive approaches.

B.1. Computational and neurocognitive approaches.

B.2. Statistical learning of novel words and phonology

C. Cross-language interactions and their cognitive consequences.

(Kroll, US; Van Hell, US and The Netherlands; Bajo; Spain; Costa, Spain; Morford and Allen, NSF VL2 Gallaudet).

A discovery about L2 learning, to which our team has contributed, is that it is virtually impossible for bilinguals to completely switch off one language when using the other [52]. It was once believed that this was true only during early stages of L2 learning, when the L1 is highly active. This research demonstrates that both languages are active for even proficient bilinguals, suggesting that although the nature of cross-language competition may change with developing L2 skill, the lexicon and grammar of the two languages produce mutual influences. These influences also modulate the way in which the native language is used, so that bilinguals differ from monolinguals in both languages.

C.1. Negotiating cross-language competition: Behavioral and neurocognitive indices of language processing and their cognitive consequences

C.2. Spoken production in two dialects vs. two languages.

C.3. Bimodal bilingualism in a spoken and signed language.