Semantic processing of unattended words and pseudowords in first and second language: An ERP study

Alon Sinai, Hillel Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We recorded event related brain potentials to assess stages of linguistic processing of first (L1) and second (L2) language and of pseudowords when subjects were engaged in a different task and did not attend to the words. Young adults (n = 15) were presented with pairs of auditory stimuli consisting of words and pseudowords in L1 and L2 with different voice onset times (VOT), which served as distracters in a short-term memory task. ERPs were recorded from 11 scalp electrodes. The ERP peak amplitudes and latencies were subjected to analysis of variance for the effects of language, meaning and scalp location as well as priming of the second word in the pair by the preceding word. Behavioral results showed that attention was drawn to the primary task and away from the words; yet significant, including semantic, processing was evident in the ERPs to the words, with significant effects of language, meaning and priming. Even with barely any awareness of the stimuli, the brain processes words including distinguishing between L1 and L2 and relating to the stimuli's context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-190
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Event-related potentials
  • Language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology


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