In good time: an ERP investigation the time course of native and non-native lexical access
Grammatical gender poses a vexing challenge for adult learners of a second language (L2). Even at high levels of proficiency, late L2 learners experience persistent difficulty using grammatical gender online, both in oral production and in comprehension. Recent work suggests that this difficulty may at least partly reflect inaccurate mapping between representations for grammatical gender and for nouns (Hopp, 2013, 2016; Lemhöfer et al., 2014). A number of studies reporting deficits in online performance, however, also report ceiling performance in offline gender assignment tasks aimed at assessing knowledge of critical nouns used for their online tasks (e.g. Foucart & Frenck-Mestre, 2011, 2012; Grüter et al., 2012). This suggests that, even when the gender of a noun is known, processing difficulties may nonetheless obtain.
In this talk, I will examine whether these difficulties might reflect delayed retrieval of grammatical gender information. I will discuss data from a set of experiments that compare the time course with which native and non-native speakers of German retrieve information about the grammatical gender of nouns. Both electrophysiological and behavioral results show that late L2 learners of German are not delayed in their retrieval of grammatical gender during lexical access for highly familiar nouns. Findings further indicate that, despite the lack of a delay, the time course of lexical feature retrieval may nonetheless differ for L2 versus L1 speakers. Overall, these findings suggest that the online use of grammatical gender in an L2 may not be constrained by delays in the retrieval of grammatical gender.