A neurophysiological study of how German and English learners of Swedish process Swedish placement verbs
Does a native language affect how we understand new words? To answer this question we examine and compare learners’ processing of a Swedish verb category (placement verbs) that exists or does not exist in their first language (L1). Native speakers rely on base for assessments: sätta ‘set’ and ställa ‘stand’ is preferred if objects are placed on their base and lägga ‘lay’ if placed off their base and for objects without base (ball). For objects with base unpreferred verbs strengthen two neurophysiological effects—event-related potentials (ERPs) while asymmetric objects without base (avocado) relies on orientation and strengthen one ERP effect in connection with vertical placement while another with the more natural horizontal placement. We will study two groups of learners of Swedish with different native languages: English with a general verb (put) and German with three placement verbs (setzen, stellen, legen) and compare their assessments and ERP effects to demonstrate when, how and if L1 influences processing of new words. Results will extend knowledge from production studies indicating that semantic conceptual reorganization is difficult to attain even when L2 forms appear to be correct to online processing (ERPs). Prior ERP studies of L2 semantics are limited to simple semantics. We expect differences in processing of the complex placement verb semantics and relate this to L1 broadening current understandings of L2 processing of general semantics to verb semantics.