Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-dknvm Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-24T00:54:15.348Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Bilinguals benefit from semantic context while perceiving speech in noise in both of their languages: Electrophysiological evidence from the N400 ERP

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2020

Kristina Coulter
Department of Psychology, Concordia University Centre for Research in Human Development Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music
Annie C. Gilbert
Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University
Shanna Kousaie
Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University
Shari Baum
Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University
Vincent L. Gracco
School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University Haskins Laboratories
Denise Klein
Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University
Debra Titone
Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music Department of Psychology, McGill University
Natalie A. Phillips*
Department of Psychology, Concordia University Centre for Research in Human Development Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music Bloomfield Centre for Studies on Aging
Address for correspondence: Natalie Phillips, Ph.D. Department of Psychology, Concordia University7141 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec, CanadaH4B 1R6 E-mail:


Although bilinguals benefit from semantic context while perceiving speech-in-noise in their native language (L1), the extent to which bilinguals benefit from semantic context in their second language (L2) is unclear. Here, 57 highly proficient English–French/French–English bilinguals, who varied in L2 age of acquisition, performed a speech-perception-in-noise task in both languages while event-related brain potentials were recorded. Participants listened to and repeated the final word of sentences high or low in semantic constraint, in quiet and with a multi-talker babble mask. Overall, our findings indicate that bilinguals do benefit from semantic context while perceiving speech-in-noise in both their languages. Simultaneous bilinguals showed evidence of processing semantic context similarly to monolinguals. Early sequential bilinguals recruited additional neural resources, suggesting more effective use of semantic context in L2, compared to late bilinguals. Semantic context use was not associated with bilingual language experience or working memory.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press.

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Akker, E and Cutler, A (2003) Prosodic cues to semantic structure in native and nonnative listening. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 6(2), 8196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Aydelott, J, Dick, F and Mills, DL (2006) Effects of acoustic distortion and semantic context on event-related potentials to spoken words. Psychophysiology 43(5), 454464.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E, Craik, FIM and Luk, G (2008) Lexical access in bilinguals: Effects of vocabulary size and executive control. Journal of Neurolinguistics 21(6), 522538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bilger, RC, Nuetzel, JM, Rabinowitz, WM and Rzeczkowski, C (1984) Standardization of a test of speech perception in noise. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 27(1), 3248.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Boothroyd, A and Nittrouer, S (1988) Mathematical treatment of context effects in phoneme and word recognition. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 84(1), 101114.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Borghini, G and Hazan, V (2018) Listening effort during sentence processing is increased for non-native listeners: a pupillometry study. Frontiers in Neuroscience 12, 152.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bradlow, AR and Alexander, JA (2007) Semantic and phonetic enhancements for speech-in-noise recognition by native and non-native listeners. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 121(4), 23392349.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Brown, C and Hagoort, P (1993) The processing nature of the N400: Evidence from masked priming. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 5(1), 3444.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cardillo, ER, Aydelott, J, Matthews, PM and Devlin, JT (2004) Left inferior prefrontal cortex activity reflects inhibitory rather than facilitatory priming. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 16(9), 15521561. ScholarPubMed
Carey, D, Mercure, E, Pizzioli, F and Aydelott, J (2014) Auditory semantic processing in dichotic listening: Effects of competing speech, ear of presentation, and sentential bias on N400s to spoken words in context. Neuropsychologia 65, 102112. ScholarPubMed
Clahsen, H and Felser, C (2006) How native-like is non-native language processing? Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10(12), 564570.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cohen, G and Faulkner, D (1983) Word recognition: Age differences in contextual facilitation effects. British Journal of Psychology 74(2), 239251.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Coltheart, M (1981) The MRC psycholinguistic database. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 33(4), 497505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Connolly, JF, Phillips, NA, Stewart, SH and Brake, WG (1992) Event-related potential sensitivity to acoustic and semantic properties of terminal words in sentences. Brain and Language 43(1), 118.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Connolly, JF, Stewart, SH and Phillips, NA (1990) The effects of processing requirements on neurophysiological responses to spoken sentences. Brain and Language 39(2), 302318.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cooke, M, Garcia Lecumberri, ML and Barker, J (2008) The foreign language cocktail party problem: Energetic and informational masking effects in non-native speech perception. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 123(1), 414427.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Davies, M (2008) The corpus of contemporary American English. BYE, Brigham Young University.Google Scholar
Dijkgraaf, A, Hartsuiker, RJ and Duyck, W (2017) Predicting upcoming information in native-language and non-native-language auditory word recognition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 20(5), 917930.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Füllgrabe, C and Rosen, S (2016) On the (un) importance of working memory in speech-in-noise processing for listeners with normal hearing thresholds. Frontiers in Psychology 7, 1268.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gaskell, MG and Marslen-Wilson, WD (1997) Integrating form and meaning: A distributed model of speech perception. Language and Cognitive Processes 12(5–6), 613656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Golestani, N, Rosen, S and Scott, SK (2009) Native-language benefit for understanding speech-in-noise: The contribution of semantics. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 12(3), 385392.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gor, K (2014) Raspberry, not a car: context predictability and a phonological advantage in early and late learners’ processing of speech in noise. Frontiers in Psychology 5, 1449.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hagoort, P (2013) MUC (Memory, Unification, Control) and beyond. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from Scholar
Hagoort, P, Baggio, G and Willems, RM (2009) Semantic unification. In The cognitive neurosciences, 4th ed. (pp. 819836). MIT press.Google Scholar
Hagoort, P and Brown, CM (2000) ERP effects of listening to speech: semantic ERP effects. Neuropsychologia 38(11), 15181530.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hahne, A (2001) What's different in second-language processing? Evidence from event-related brain potentials. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 30(3), 251266.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hervais-Adelman, A, Pefkou, M and Golestani, N (2014) Bilingual speech-in-noise: Neural bases of semantic context use in the native language. Brain and Language 132, 16.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Holcomb, PJ and Neville, HJ (1991) Natural speech processing: An analysis using event-related brain potentials. Psychobiology 19(4), 286300.Google Scholar
Hwang, H, Shin, J and Hartsuiker, RJ (2018) Late Bilinguals Share Syntax Unsparingly Between L1 and L2: Evidence From Crosslinguistically Similar and Different Constructions. Language Learning 68(1), 177205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ingvalson, EM, Dhar, S, Wong, PCM and Liu, H (2015) Working memory training to improve speech perception in noise across languages. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 137(6), 34773486.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
IBM Corp (2015) IBM SPSS statistics, version 23.0. IBM Corp Armonk, NY.Google Scholar
Ivanova, I and Costa, A (2008) Does bilingualism hamper lexical access in speech production? Acta Psychologica 127(2), 277288.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jankowiak, K and Rataj, K (2017) The N400 as a window into lexico-semantic processing in bilingualism. Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics 53(1), 119156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalikow, DN, Stevens, KN and Elliott, LL (1977a) Development of a test of speech intelligibility in noise using sentence materials with controlled word predictability. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 61(5), 13371351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalikow, D, Stevens, K and Elliott, J (1977b) The speech perception in noise (SPIN) test. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 61, 13371351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kilman, L, Zekveld, A, Hällgren, M and Rönnberg, J (2014) The influence of non-native language proficiency on speech perception performance. Frontiers in Psychology 5, 651.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kousaie, S, Baum, S, Phillips, NA, Gracco, V, Titone, D, Chen, J.-K., Chai, XJ and Klein, D (2019) Language learning experience and mastering the challenges of perceiving speech in noise. Brain and Language 196, 104645. ScholarPubMed
Kuperberg, GR and Jaeger, TF (2016) What do we mean by prediction in language comprehension? Language, Cognition and Neuroscience 31(1), 3259.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kutas, M and Federmeier, KD (2011) Thirty years and counting: finding meaning in the N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP). Annual Review of Psychology 62, 621647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kutas, M and Hillyard, SA (1980) Reading senseless sentences: Brain potentials reflect semantic incongruity. Science 207(4427), 203205.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lau, EF, Phillips, C and Poeppel, D (2008) A cortical network for semantics:(de) constructing the N400. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9(12), 920.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lecumberri, MLG and Cooke, M (2006) Effect of masker type on native and non-native consonant perception in noise. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 119(4), 24452454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lecumberri, MLG, Cooke, M and Cutler, A (2010) Non-native speech perception in adverse conditions: A review. Speech Communication 52(11–12), 864886.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
León-Cabrera, P, Rodríguez-Fornells, A and Morís, J (2017) Electrophysiological correlates of semantic anticipation during speech comprehension. Neuropsychologia 99, 326334.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lorge, I and Thorndike, EL (1952) The teacher's word book of 30 000 words. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Marslen-Wilson, W and Tyler, LK (1980) The temporal structure of spoken language understanding. Cognition 8(1), 171.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mattys, SL, Davis, MH, Bradlow, AR and Scott, SK (2012) Speech recognition in adverse conditions: A review. Language and Cognitive Processes 27(7–8), 953978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mayo, LH, Florentine, M and Buus, S (1997) Age of second-language acquisition and perception of speech in noise. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 40(3), 686693.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Miller, GA, Heise, GA and Lichten, W (1951) The intelligibility of speech as a function of the context of the test materials. Journal of Experimental Psychology 41(5), 329.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Millman, RE and Mattys, SL (2017) Auditory Verbal Working Memory as a Predictor of Speech Perception in Modulated Maskers in Listeners With Normal Hearing. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 60(5), 12361245.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Navarra, J, Sebastián-Gallés, N and Soto-Faraco, S (2005) The perception of second language sounds in early bilinguals: new evidence from an implicit measure. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 31(5), 912.Google ScholarPubMed
New, B (2006) Lexique 3: Une nouvelle base de données lexicales. In Actes de la Conférence Traitement Automatique des Langues Naturelles (TALN 2006).Google Scholar
New, B, Pallier, C, Ferrand, L and Matos, R (2001) Une base de données lexicales du français contemporain sur internet: LEXIQUETM//A lexical database for contemporary french: LEXIQUETM. L'année Psychologique 101(3), 447462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Obleser, J and Kotz, SA (2011) Multiple brain signatures of integration in the comprehension of degraded speech. Neuroimage 55(2), 713723.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Parbery-Clark, A, Marmel, F, Bair, J and Kraus, N (2011) What subcortical–cortical relationships tell us about processing speech in noise. European Journal of Neuroscience 33(3), 549557.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Peelle, JE (2018) Listening effort: How the cognitive consequences of acoustic challenge are reflected in brain and behavior. Ear and Hearing 39(2), 204.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Peelle, JE (2019) The neural basis for auditory and audiovisual speech perception.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, NA, Segalowitz, N, O'Brien, I and Yamasaki, N (2004) Semantic priming in a first and second language: Evidence from reaction time variability and event-related brain potentials. Journal of Neurolinguistics 17(2–3), 237262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pichora-Fuller, MK, Kramer, SE, Eckert, MA, Edwards, B, Hornsby, BWY, Humes, LE, Lemke, U, Lunner, T, Matthen, M, Mackersie, CL, Naylor, G, Phillips, N, Richter, M, Rudner, M, Sommers, M, Tremblay, KL and Wingfield, A (2016) Hearing Impairment and Cognitive Energy: The Framework for Understanding Effortful Listening (FUEL). Ear and Hearing, 37. Retrieved from Scholar
R Core Team (2018) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria. Scholar
Rogers, CL, Lister, JJ, Febo, DM, Besing, JM and Abrams, HB (2006) Effects of bilingualism, noise, and reverberation on speech perception by listeners with normal hearing. Applied Psycholinguistics 27(3), 465485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ryan, C (2013) Language Use in the United States: 2011. American Community Survey Reports, US Census Bureau.Google Scholar
Sandoval, TC, Gollan, TH, Ferreira, VS and Salmon, DP (2010) What causes the bilingual disadvantage in verbal fluency? The dual-task analogy. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 13(2), 231252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schmidtke, J (2016) The bilingual disadvantage in speech understanding in noise is likely a frequency effect related to reduced language exposure. Frontiers in Psychology 7, 678.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Semel, E, Wiig, EH and Secord, WA (2003) Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals, (CELF-4).(5-8 age) The Psychological Corporation. A Harcourt Assessment. Inc.: San Antonio, USA.Google Scholar
Shi, L.-F. (2009) Normal-hearing English-as-a-second-language listeners’ recognition of English words in competing signals. International Journal of Audiology 48(5), 260270.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Shi, L.-F. (2010) Perception of acoustically degraded sentences in bilingual listeners who differ in age of English acquisition. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 53(4), 821835.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Shi, L.-F. (2014) Measuring effectiveness of semantic cues in degraded English sentences in non-native listeners. International Journal of Audiology 53(1), 3039.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Shook, A, Goldrick, M, Engstler, C and Marian, V (2015) Bilinguals show weaker lexical access during spoken sentence comprehension. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 44(6), 789802.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Van den Brink, D, Brown, CM and Hagoort, P (2006) The cascaded nature of lexical selection and integration in auditory sentence processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 32(2), 364.Google ScholarPubMed
Wechsler, D (2008) Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale–Fourth Edition (WAIS–IV). San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
Zekveld, AA, Heslenfeld, DJ, Johnsrude, IS, Versfeld, NJ and Kramer, SE (2014) The eye as a window to the listening brain: neural correlates of pupil size as a measure of cognitive listening load. Neuroimage 101, 7686.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Zirnstein, M, van Hell, JG and Kroll, JF (2018) Cognitive control ability mediates prediction costs in monolinguals and bilinguals. Cognition 176, 87106.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed