General programme, activity sheet

Friday 19 September, 2014 10:00 to 10:30 Oral presentation
Neurocognitive changes in gender processing in French children
Authors: Phaedra Royle, Alexandra Marquis, Karsten Steinhauer

Due its morphological idiosyncrasy, gender agreement is an aspect of French that can be difficult to master. Although research shows that adjectives can be well mastered by age 5 (Roulet-Amiot & Jakubovicz, 2006), it is not clear that children process gender agreement in the same way as adults (Royle & Valois, 2010). The objective was to better understand the cognitive underpinnings of gender agreement processing in the French noun-phrase (DP). To this end, we used an alien learning paradigm and recorded participants' event related potentials (ERPs) with an auditory-visual sentence-picture matching paradigm. ERPs can measure ongoing language processing with millisecond-by-millisecond precision and can tap into the emergence of online sensitivity to agreement errors in child neurolinguistic profiles. 50 children aged 4;6 to 8;9 participated in the experiment. They listened to a story about Zilda the alien coming to Quebec and learning French. Zilda produced agreement errors, as well as correct sentences. French children showed two patterns of brain response to errors, whereby ERP profiles reflected lexical access, showing a typical lexico-semantic centro-parietal negativity (N400) to errors at younger ages (< 7 years), and grammatical feature checking at older ages (> 7 years), indexed by a biphasic adult-like left anterior negativity (LAN) followed by a positive shift (P600) (Molinaro et al, 2011). These data, in conjunction with previous elicitation data (Royle & Valois, 2010), support the notion that adjective agreement processes in French are initially based on lexical selection and only later on feature checking. This study establishes the usefulness of this type of paradigm in child language research (and populations with similar issues), where common issues are lack of cooperation, inability to make grammaticality judgments, output errors, and illiteracy.
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Paper session D2
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