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The neurocognition of switching between languages: A review of electrophysiological studies

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van Hell, J. G., & Witteman, M. J. (2009). The neurocognition of switching between languages: A review of electrophysiological studies. In L. Isurin, D. Winford, & K. de Bot (Eds.), Multidisciplinary approaches to code switching (pp. 53-84). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0013-3246-2
The seemingly effortless switching between languages and the merging of two languages into a coherent utterance is a hallmark of bilingual language processing, and reveals the flexibility of human speech and skilled cognitive control. That skill appears to be available not only to speakers when they produce language-switched utterances, but also to listeners and readers when presented with mixed language information. In this chapter, we review electrophysiological studies in which Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) are derived from recordings of brain activity to examine the neurocognitive aspects of comprehending and producing mixed language. Topics we discuss include the time course of brain activity associated with language switching between single stimuli and language switching of words embedded in a meaningful sentence context. The majority of ERP studies report that switching between languages incurs neurocognitive costs, but –more interestingly- ERP patterns differ as a function of L2 proficiency and the amount of daily experience with language switching, the direction of switching (switching into L2 is typically associated with higher switching costs than switching into L1), the type of language switching task, and the predictability of the language switch. Finally, we outline some future directions for this relatively new approach to the study of language switching.