Continuous speech encoding in Chinese and English

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Description: Listeners regularly comprehend continuous speech despite noisy conditions. Previous studies show that cortical entrainment to speech degrades under noise, predicts comprehension, and increases for non-native listeners. We test the hypothesis that listeners similarly increase cortical entrainment for both L2 and noisy L1 speech, after controlling for comprehension. Twenty-four Chinese-English bilinguals underwent EEG while listening to one hour of an audiobook, mixed with three levels of noise, in Mandarin and English and answered comprehension questions. We estimated cortical entrainment for one-minute tracks using the multivariate temporal response function (mTRF). Contrary to our prediction, entrainment of the L2 was significantly lower than L1, while L1 entrainment significantly increased when speech was masked by noise without reducing comprehension. However, greater L2 proficiency was positively associated with greater entrainment. We discuss how studies of entrainment relating to noise and bilingualism might be reconciled with an approach focused on exerted rather than demanded effort.


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