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Poster: Lisanik

Working memory effects in English-German bilinguals

Martin Lisanik 

Working memory (WM) is a limited storage capacity that is used both for temporary storage and manipulation of information (Baddeley, 1974). It is mostly activated when certain information has to be kept in mind while processing new incoming information. There is enough evidence that this capacity is very individual and some people have a more robust WM than others (MacDonald & Christiansen, 2002.)

It has been assumed (Frank et. al. 2016) that certain groups of people might have an enhanced WM. Such a group may be speakers of verb-final languages (e.g., German speakers). In these languages, in certain structures a verb has to appear at the very end of the sentence and therefore these structures might be naturally more taxing on WM than syntactic structures with verb-second position. Hypothetically such practice might have also an impact on WM. Nevertheless, we still do not know enough whether speakers of certain languages might demonstrate enhanced WM effects when processing language.

In this study I challenged this assumption and compared WM of three different groups: English monolinguals, English-German bilinguals and German native speakers. I also conducted a self-paced reading study. Our participants were asked to read four types of sentences in English that are told to be taxing on WM. These include double embedded clauses in a grammatical condition (with three required verb), condition when one verb is omitted and animate subject and object clauses. The focus of this study is the processing of double embedded clauses in English like in (1) below.

            (1) The carpenter who the craftsman who the peasant carried hurt supervised the apprentice in the garden.

Thanks to the measured WM-capacity and reading times, we were able to answer the question, whether these clauses are hard to process due to failing WM among certain participants, or whether difficulty in processing is only due to something else like their relative scarcity in language. In the poster I will mostly focus on possible WM-transfer and the role of WM in language processing.