The Effect of Code-Switching Experience on the Neural Response Elicited to a Sentential Code Switch
Switching between languages, or codeswitching, is a cognitive ability that multilinguals can perform with ease. This study investigates whether codeswitching during sentence reading affects early access to meaning, as indexed by the robust brain response called the N400. We hypothesize that the brain prioritizes the meaning of the word during comprehension with codeswitching costs emerging at a different stage of processing. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while Spanish–English balanced bilinguals (n = 24) read Spanish sentences containing a target noun that could create a semantic violation, codeswitch or both. Self-reported frequency of daily codeswitching was used as a regressor to determine if the cost of reading a switch is modulated by codeswitching experience. A robust N400 to semantic violations was followed by a late positive component (LPC). Codeswitches modulated the left anterior negativity (LAN) and LPC, but not the N400, with codeswitched semantic violations resulting in a sub-additive interaction. Codeswitching experience modulated the LPC, but not the N400. The results suggest that early access to semantic memory during comprehension happens independent of the language in which the words are presented. Codeswitching affects a separate stage of comprehension with switching experience modulating the brain's response to experiencing a language switch.