ILS Colloquium


15 December 2022
15:30 - 17:00
Belle van Zuylen room, Academic Building, Domplein 29

Gerrit Jan Kootstra

Cross-language structural priming as a mechanism of bilingual language use: Short-term and long-term effects

Radboud University Nijmegen

A fascinating aspect of language use is that it is adaptive: people continuously adapt and update their language use to the ongoing linguistic environment (e.g., Beckner et al., 2009;  Chang & Dell, 2014). This is among other things visible in structural priming, the phenomenon whereby people’s production and interpretation of sentences is influenced by the structure of other sentences they have recently heard or produced themselves (e.g., Pickering & Ferreira, 2008). For example, when someone is asked to describe a picture of a waiter giving a drink to a customer, the choice to use a prepositional-object structure (“the waiter gives a drink to the customer”) or a double-object structure (“the waiter gives the customer a drink”) is influenced by whether the speaker has recently heard (or used) a prepositional-object structure or double-object structure.

Interestingly, structural priming effects have not only been found within languages, but also between languages in bilinguals (e.g., Van Gompel & Arai, 2018). This indicates that syntactic processing in one language is influenced by people’s experience with syntactic processing in another language, and thus that cross-language structural priming may well serve as a mechanism underlying language contact phenomena, such as cross-linguistic influence in bilinguals and second language learners (Serratrice, 2016) and code-switching (Kootstra, van Hell, & Dijkstra, 2010). Another important finding is that cross-language structural priming does not only have short-term effects but also longer-term effects (e.g., Kootstra & Doedens, 2016). This suggests that cross-language structural priming may also constitute a mechanism underlying long-term effects of language contact, such as contact-induced language change (Kootstra & Şahin, 2018). In this talk, I will present a number of experimental studies, based on both bilingual adults and children and with various languages, in which this interplay between short-term and long-term priming in bilingual language use is reflected, not only in sentence production but also in sentence comprehension. These results provide insights into the potential role of cross-language structural priming as a cognitive mechanism of language contact phenomena, such as cross-linguistic influence and contact-induced language change.