Exploring the Interplay Between Language Comprehension and Cortical Tracking: The Bilingual Test Case

Cristina Baus, Iris Millan, Xuanyi Jessica Chen, Esti Blanco-Elorrieta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cortical tracking, the synchronization of brain activity to linguistic rhythms is a well-established phenomenon. However, its nature has been heavily contested: Is it purely epiphenomenal or does it play a fundamental role in speech comprehension? Previous research has used intelligibility manipulations to examine this topic. Here, we instead varied listeners’ language comprehension skills while keeping the auditory stimulus constant. To do so, we tested 22 native English speakers and 22 Spanish/Catalan bilinguals learning English as a second language (SL) in an EEG cortical entrainment experiment and correlated the responses with the magnitude of the N400 component of a semantic comprehension task. As expected, native listeners effectively tracked sentential, phrasal, and syllabic linguistic structures. In contrast, SL listeners exhibited limitations in tracking sentential structures but successfully tracked phrasal and syllabic rhythms. Importantly, the amplitude of the neural entrainment correlated with the amplitude of the detection of semantic incongruities in SLs, showing a direct connection between tracking and the ability to understand speech. Together, these findings shed light on the interplay between language comprehension and cortical tracking, to identify neural entrainment as a fundamental principle for speech comprehension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)484-496
Number of pages13
JournalNeurobiology of Language
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 3 2024


  • bilingualism
  • cortical tracking
  • entrainment
  • language comprehension
  • N400
  • neural oscillations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology


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