LINGUIST List 25.3076

Tue Jul 29 2014

Diss: Neurolinguistics: Faretta-Stutenberg: 'Individual Differences in Context...'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 23-Jul-2014
From: Mandy Faretta-Stutenberg <>
Subject: Individual Differences in Context: A Neurolinguistic Investigation of Working Memory and L2 Development
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Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago
Program: Hispanic Studies
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Mandy L Faretta-Stutenberg

Dissertation Title: Individual Differences in Context: A Neurolinguistic Investigation of Working Memory and L2 Development

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Neurolinguistics

Dissertation Director:
Kara Morgan-Short

Dissertation Abstract:

This thesis examines the interplay between external and internal factors in second language
acquisition by analyzing the role of individual differences in experiential (language contact) and
cognitive (working memory) factors in linguistic development that takes place in traditional, at
home classroom settings and during study abroad. The study aims to provide a multi-dimensional
perspective on these relationships by assessing both behavioral and neural evidence. The study
assesses changes in linguistic abilities (overall proficiency, grammaticality judgments, and oral
production accuracy) and online processing (event-related potentials elicited during
grammaticality judgment task) among intermediate-level learners of Spanish as a second
language. Changes in proficiency and processing over the course of one semester of study are
analyzed with regard to reported language contact hours and working memory abilities. Analyses
revealed that learners in both the At Home and Study Abroad groups evidenced behavioral and
processing changes from pre- to post-semester. Within the At Home group, language contact and
working memory accounted for changes in (1) overall proficiency and (2) online processing of
grammatical gender agreement on adjectives. Within the Study Abroad group, language contact
accounted for (1) gains in judgment and production accuracy for grammatical gender agreement
on adjectives and (2) changes in online processing of adjective agreement violations. Working
memory did not account for behavioral or processing changes within the Study Abroad group.
Results of this study contribute data to context-based and neurocognitive approaches to second
language acquisition research. They also provide preliminary answers to Collentine and Freed’s
(2004) call for theories of language acquisition and processing to take into consideration cognitive
abilities and context of learning. Future research that utilizes a multidimensional approach
informed by the fields of second language acquisition and cognitive neuroscience is likely to
provide further insights into the relationships between external and internal factors in linguistic
development and have significant implications for identifying the predictors of successful second
language acquisition among adult learners.

Page Updated: 29-Jul-2014