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Persistent differences between native speakers and late bilinguals: Evidence from inflectional and derivational processing in older speakers


Previous research with younger adults has revealed differences between native (L1) and non-native late-bilingual (L2) speakers with respect to how morphologically complex words are processed. This study examines whether these L1/L2 differences persist into old age. We tested masked-priming effects for derived and inflected word forms in older L1 and L2 speakers of German and compared them to results from younger L1 and L2 speakers on the same experiment (mean ages: 62 vs. 24). We found longer overall response times paired with better accuracy scores for older (L1 and L2) participants than for younger participants. The priming patterns, however, were not affected by chronological age. While both L1 and L2 speakers showed derivational priming, only the L1 speakers demonstrated inflectional priming. We argue that general performance in both L1 and L2 is affected by aging, but that the more profound differences between native and non-native processing persist into old age.

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Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Jana Reifegerste, University of Potsdam, Potsdam Research Institute for Multilingualism, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24–25, 14476 Potsdam,
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This work was supported by an Alexander-von-Humboldt-Professorship awarded to Harald Clahsen. We thank Marilena Tsopanidi for help with the data collection.

Supplementary material can be found online at

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