Past studies have shown that expert interpreters were better than novices at using contextual cues to anticipate upcoming information. However, whether such sensitivity to contextual cues can be traced by means of neural signatures is relatively unexplored. The present study used event-related brain potentials (ERPs) along with a language-switching paradigm – including non-switched (Chinese–Chinese, L1–L1) and switched (Chinese–English, L1–L2) conditions – to investigate whether interpreters with many years of experience, interpreters with a few years of experience and postgraduate-level interpreting students differed in the way they process contextually congruent or incongruent sentence-final target words. The results show that while the manipulations of congruency and switching independently induced a strong brain response in all three groups, the interaction between the two factors elicited different patterns across groups during 500–700 ms: (1) while a sustained congruency effect was found in the two less-experienced groups for the switched condition, such an effect was observed in the most experienced group for both switched and non-switched conditions; (2) only the least-experienced group showed a frontal negativity towards incongruent trials in the switched condition. These 200 ms transient group differences revealed that it might be possible to trace the development of interpreting ability by examining the ERP components in a language-switching setting.
ASJC Scopus subject areas