Lexical-semantic system organization in the monolingual and bilingual developing brain

Abstract : The present doctoral research explored the developing lexical-semantic system in monolingual and bilingual toddlers. The question of how and when word meanings are first related to each other and become integrated into an interconnected semantic system was investigated. Three studies were conducted with monolingual French learning children which aimed at exploring how words are organized, that is, according to taxonomic relationships (e.g., pig - horse) and to semantic similarity distances between words (e.g., cow - sheep versus cow - deer), and whether cognitive mechanisms, such as automatic activation and controlled processes, underlie priming effects. An additional two studies conducted with children learning two languages simultaneously, aimed at determining, first, whether taxonomically related word meanings, in each of the two languages, are processed in a similar manner. The second goal was to explore whether words presented in one language activate words in another language, and vice versa. In an attempt to answer these questions, lexical-semantic processing was explored by two techniques: eye-tracking and event-related potentials (ERPs) techniques. Both techniques provide high temporal resolution measures of word processing but differ in terms of responses. Eye-movement measurements (Study III) reflect looking preferences in response to spoken words and their time-course, whereas ERPs reflect implicit brain responses and their activity patterns (Study I, II, IV, and V). Study I and II revealed that words are taxonomically organized at 18 and 24-month-olds. Both automatic and controlled processes were shown to be involved in word processing during language development (Study II). Study III revealed that at 24-month-olds, categorical and feature overlap between items underpin the developing lexical-semantic system. That is, lexical-items in each semantic category are organized according to graded similarity distances. Productive vocabulary skills influenced word recognition and were related to underlying cognitive mechanisms. Study IV revealed no differences in terms of semantic processing in the bilinguals¿ two languages, but the ERP distribution across the scalp varied according to the language being processed. Study V showed that words presented in one language activate their semantic representations in the second language and the other way around. The distribution of the ERPs depended, however, on the direction of translation. The results suggest that even early dual language experience yields distinct neural resources underlying lexical-semantic processing in the dominant and non-dominant languages during language acquisition.
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Louah Sirri. Lexical-semantic system organization in the monolingual and bilingual developing brain. Psychology. Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015USPCB066⟩. ⟨tel-01171301⟩

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