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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Electrophysiological signatures of multimodal comprehension in second language


Language is multimodal: non-linguistic cues, such as prosody, gestures and mouth movements, are always present in face-to-face communication and interact to support processing. In this paper, we ask whether and how multimodal cues affect L2 processing by recording EEG for highly proficient bilinguals when watching naturalistic materials. For each word, we quantified surprisal and the informativeness of prosody, gestures, and mouth movements. We found that each cue modulates the N400: prosodic accentuation, meaningful gestures, and informative mouth movements all reduce N400. Further, effects of meaningful gestures but not mouth informativeness are enhanced by prosodic accentuation, whereas effects of mouth are enhanced by meaningful gestures but reduced by beat gestures. Compared with L1, L2 participants benefit less from cues and their interactions, except for meaningful gestures and mouth movements. Thus, in real-world language comprehension, L2 comprehenders use multimodal cues just as L1 speakers albeit to a lesser extent.

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