Current everyday communication is a cultural and linguistic melting pot. There are hundreds of millions of speakers of English as a second language in the world, so we are likely to encounter speakers who have a foreign accent when speaking English. Many speakers of multiple languages regularly switch between languages, so comprehending code-switched speech is also a common feature of everyday communication. Exploiting the high temporal resolution of encephalography (EEG), we studied the timing and degree of neural activation as the comprehension of code-switched sentences and of foreign-accented sentences unfolds over time.

In this talk, I will present a series of recent EEG studies, using event-related potentials (ERP) and time-frequency analyses, that examined the cognitive mechanisms associated with the comprehension of code-switched sentences and foreign-accented sentences. I will discuss evidence showing that switching direction (switching from the first language to the second language, or vice versa) and accented speech modulate switching costs when bilinguals listen to or read code-switched sentences. I will also present a series of recent EEG experiments in which we examined how speaker identity and listener experience affect the comprehension of foreign-accented and native-accented sentences.

Together these studies attest to the value of integrating cross-disciplinary approaches to gain more insight into the neural, cognitive, and linguistic mechanisms of processing code-switched and foreign-accented sentences.