Bilinguals in the presence of other bilinguals engage in a linguistic skill known as codeswitching, defined as the fluid alternation between two or more languages within the same conversation (e.g. "El niño está reading el book"). Once thought to be a sign of lack of competence in either language, three decades of research has revealed that codeswitching is systematic and not random. Previous research has mainly studied the production of codeswitching both from theoretical and sociolinguistic perspectives, leaving the comprehension of codeswitched speech an understudied area of inquiry. Yet there are critical consequences for the comprehension system. Whereas production is under the control of the speaker, a listener must seamlessly integrate multiple languages in real time in order to successfully comprehend codeswitched speech.

Jorge Valdés Kroff, under the supervision of Drs. Paola Dussias and Chip Gerfen, will conduct a series of experiments to investigate whether codeswitches that are more frequent in production are easier to comprehend for bilinguals. They will capitalize on the presence of grammatical gender in codeswitched noun phrases to investigate this question and will use an eye-tracking methodology known as the visual world paradigm. Participants are shown objects in a visual scene while listening to a phrase that names one of the objects. By examining the pattern of eye movements, researchers are able make inferences on the timecourse of comprehension of speech.

This line of research provides an ideal testing ground for examining the link between production and comprehension by specifically testing the hypothesis that language use and exposure have critical consequences for how the comprehension system processes language. Furthermore, the focus on Spanish-English bilinguals in the U.S. will provide important information on a vastly underrepresented yet increasingly visible sector of our society with implications for language policy in education and cognition in general.

Project Report

When humans engage in conversation, they are continuously making informed predictions about what their interlocutors are saying. This feat happens so quickly, yet underlying this ability is an ongoing debate in the language sciences as to what guides humans' ability to make these informed predictions in comprehension. On the one hand, researchers claim that this ability is part of an innate linguistic and/or cogntive architecture. That is, humans are guided by universal parsing strategies and/or working memory capacity . Alternatively, others claim that comprehension is guided by the preferential production patterns that exist within a community of speakers. In other words, this alternative account places a greater emphasis on the role of experience in guiding comprehension. Thus far, the bulk of data informing this debate has come from monolingual populations or bilinguals, focusing on their native or second language. We present novel data from a unique bilingual skill known as codeswitching that informs this debate. Codeswitching presents challenges from the point of view of comprehension. In particular, In so doing, we apply for the first time the visual world paradigm, an innovative eye tracking methodology that uses an implicit, online behavioral measure, to the online comprehension of codeswitched speech. Traditionally, this bilingual mode of speech has been difficult to study due to it primarily being an

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
William J. Badecker
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Pennsylvania State University
University Park
United States
Zip Code