What is Cognitive Science

Interpreting temporal reference in a foreign language

Dr. Nuria Sagarra

Thursday, September 20, 2012, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Rutgers University, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

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Processing a foreign language as an adult is cognitively demanding, and working memory limitations force learners to process L2 input selectively. Latin, Spanish and other morphologically rich languages can mark temporal reference lexically (adverbs) and morphologically (verbal inflections). In laboratory studies with a subset of Latin, Ellis and Sagarra (2010a, 2011) and Ellis et al. (forthcoming) found that learners attended to the cues on which they were trained (adverb, verb), that those without training focused more on adverbs, and that this adverb bias was augmented in L1s with no (Chinese) or impoverished (English) morphology. However, when linguistic complexity increased, learners were lexical regardless of their L1. In self-paced reading and eyetracking studies with a complete L2 (Spanish), Ellis and Sagarra (2010b), Sagarra (2007), and Sagarra and Ellis (forthcoming) reported that: (1) beginning learners relied so heavily on adverbs that they were insensitive to adverb-verb tense incongruencies unless they had high working memory capacity, (2) intermediate and advanced learners were sensitive to tense incongruencies, and native speakers of a morphologically rich L1 (Romanian) looked longer at verbs than native speakers of a morphologically poor L1 (English), and (3) transfer effects increased with L2 proficiency level. The results of these studies indicate that linguistic complexity, language experience and cognitive individual differences at early stages of acquisition modulate L2 morphological processing. These findings inform linguistic and cognitive models of second language acquisition and suggest that learners start with the least effortful interpretation and later on recur to L1 transfer.

Dr. Nuria Sagarra


"What is Cognitive Science?"

This lunchtime talks series is designed to introduce the University community to issues in Cognitive Science. Cognitive Science is one the the few fields where modern developments in computer science and artificial intelligence promise to shed light on classical problems in psychology and the philosophy of the mind. Ancient questions of how we see the world, understand language, and reason, and questions such as 'how a material system can know about the outside world', are being explored with the powerful new conceptual prosthetics of computer modeling.

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