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Non-linear Chatbots

At Jibes I have been involved in the design and development of non-linear (non-scripted) chatbots for large corporate clients.

Selected Publications

For speaking, words in the lexicon are somehow activated from conceptual representations but we know surprisingly little about how this works precisely. Which of the attributes of the concept DOG (e.g. BARKS, IS WALKED WITH A LEASH, CARNIVORE, ANIMATE) have to be activated in a given situation to be able to select the word ‘dog’? Are there things we know about dogs that are always activated for naming and others that are only activated in certain contexts or even never? To date, investigations on lexical access in speaking have largely focused on the effects of distractor nouns on the naming latency of a target noun. We have learned that distractors from the same semantic category (e.g. ‘cat’) hinder naming, but associatively related distractors (‘leash’) may facilitate or hinder naming. However, associatively related words can have all kinds of semantic relationships to a target word, and, with few exceptions, the effects of specific semantic relationships other than membership in the same category as the target concept have not been systematically investigated. This Research Topic aims at moving forward towards a more detailed account of how precisely conceptual information is used to access the lexicon in speaking and what corresponding format of conceptual representations needs to be assumed.
Frontiers in Psychology: Language Sciences

According to frame-theory, concepts can be represented as structured frames that contain conceptual attributes (e.g., ‘color’) and their values (e.g., ‘red’). A particular color value can be seen as a core conceptual component for high color-diagnostic (HCD) objects (e.g., bananas) which are strongly associated with a typical color, but less so for low color-diagnostic (LCD) objects (e.g., bicycles) that exist in many different colors. To investigate whether the availability of a core conceptual component (color) affects lexical access in language production, we conducted two experiments on the naming of visually presented HCD and LCD objects. Experiment 1 showed that, when naming latencies were matched for colored HCD and LCD objects, achromatic HCD objects were named more slowly than achromatic LCD objects. In Experiment 2 we recorded ERPs while participants performed a picture-naming task, in which achromatic target pictures were either preceded by an appropriately colored box (primed condition) or a black and white checkerboard (unprimed condition). We focused on the P2 component, which has been shown to reflect difficulty of lexical access in language production. Results showed that high color-diagnosticity resulted in slower object-naming and a more pronounced P2. Priming also yielded a more positive P2 but did not result in an RT difference. ERP waveforms on the P1, P2 and N300 components showed a priming by color-diagnosticity interaction, the effect of color priming being stronger for HCD objects than for LCD objects. The effect of color-diagnosticity on the P2 component suggests that the slower naming of achromatic HCD objects is (at least in part) due to more difficult lexical retrieval. Hence, the color attribute seems to affect lexical retrieval in HCD words. The interaction between priming and color-diagnosticity indicates that priming with a feature hinders lexical access, especially if the feature is a core feature of the target object.
Frontiers in Psychology: Language Sciences

The prevailing theory of language switching states that unbalanced bilingual speakers use inhibition to switch between their languages (Inhibitory Control or IC model; Green, 1998). Using fMRI, we examined the brain mechanisms underlying language switching and investigated the role of domain-general inhibition areas such as the right inferior frontal gyrus (rIFG) and the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA). Dutch–English–German trilinguals performed a picture naming task in the MRI scanner in both a blocked-language and a mixed-language context. The rIFG and pre-SMA showed more activation for switches to the second and third language (L2 and L3) compared to non-switch trials and blocked trials. No such difference was found for switches to the first language (L1). Our results indicate that language switching recruits brain areas related to domain-general inhibition. In this way, our study supports the claim that multilinguals use inhibition to switch between their languages.

In this study we investigated the availability of non-target language semantic features in bilingual speech processing. We recorded EEG from Dutch-English bilinguals who listened to spoken sentences in their L2 (English) or L1 (Dutch). In Experiments 1 and 3 the sentences contained an interlingual homophone. The sentence context was either biased towards the target language meaning of the homophone (target biased), the non-target language meaning (non-target biased), or neither meaning of the homophone (fully incongruent). These conditions were each compared to a semantically congruent control condition. In L2 sentences we observed an N400 in the non-target biased condition that had an earlier offset than the N400 to fully incongruent homophones. In the target biased condition, a negativity emerged that was later than the N400 to fully incongruent homophones. In L1 contexts, neither target biased nor non-target biased homophones yielded significant N400 effects (compared to the control condition). In Experiments 2 and 4 the sentences contained a language switch to a non-target language word that could be semantically congruent or incongruent. Semantically incongruent words (switched, and non-switched) elicited an N400 effect. The N400 to semantically congruent language-switched words had an earlier offset than the N400 to incongruent words. Both congruent and incongruent language switches elicited an LPC (Late Positive Component). These findings show that bilinguals activate both meanings of interlingual homophones irrespective of their contextual fit. In L2 contexts, the target-language meaning of the homophone has a head start over the non-target language meaning. The target-language head start is also evident for language switches from both L2-to-L1 and L1-to-L2.
Brain Research

Between-language interactions are not inevitable by-products of between-language overlap. Rather, they only occur when the bilingual has sufficient processing resources available or in the face of a great deal of between-language overlap. Furthermore, these interactions are likely to diminish as the bilingual becomes more proficient in his second language. Even when we consider the most extreme case of between-language overlap, namely words that sound very similar between languages, the bilingual’s speech comprehension system gives priority to the language at hand, thereby minimising any between-language ambiguity.
MPI Series in Psycholinguistics

Electrophysiological studies consistently find N400 effects of semantic incongruity in nonnative (L2) language comprehension. These N400 effects are often delayed compared with native (L1) comprehension, suggesting that semantic integration in one's second language occurs later than in one's first language. In this study, we investigated whether such a delay could be attributed to (1) intralingual lexical competition and/or (2) interlingual lexical competition. We recorded EEG from Dutch–English bilinguals who listened to English (L2) sentences in which the sentence-final word was (a) semantically fitting and (b) semantically incongruent or semantically incongruent but initially congruent due to sharing initial phonemes with (c) the most probable sentence completion within the L2 or (d) the L1 translation equivalent of the most probable sentence completion. We found an N400 effect in each of the semantically incongruent conditions. This N400 effect was significantly delayed to L2 words but not to L1 translation equivalents that were initially congruent with the sentence context. Taken together, these findings firstly demonstrate that semantic integration in nonnative listening can start based on word initial phonemes (i.e., before a single lexical candidate could have been selected based on the input) and secondly suggest that spuriously elicited L1 lexical candidates are not available for semantic integration in L2 speech comprehension..
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

Recent Publications

More Publications

  • Accessing conceptual representations for speaking

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  • Editorial: Accessing conceptual representations for speaking

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  • The use of conceptual components in language production: an ERP study

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  • Domain-General Inhibition Areas of the Brain are Involved in Language Switching: fMRI Evidence from Trilingual Speakers

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  • Head start for target language in bilingual listening

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  • Alpha-band Suppression in the Visual Word Form Area As a Functional Bottleneck to Consciousness

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  • An Appraisal of the Bilingual Language Production System: Quantitatively or Qualitatively Different from Monolinguals

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  • The temporal dynamics of first versus second language production

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  • Lexical interactions in non-native speech comprehension: Evidence from electro-encephalography, eye-tracking, and functional magnetic resonance imaging

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  • Lexical competition in nonnative speech comprehension

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I answer a listener's questions about how languages are stored in the brain and why some languages interfere with one another.
NPO Radio 2: Bureau Kijk in de Vegte

Dutch-Ukranian actress, presenter, and columnist Victoria Koblenko explores her multilingualism. In this episode of popular science programme Pavlov I measure her brain's reponse to language switches.
NTR: Pavlov

My research was briefly mentioned in NRC Handelsblad (article by: Ewoud Sanders and Marc van Oostendorp) on March 28th, 2011 (pp. 24). One or two aspects were misrepresented, however. Firstly, the study that the authors refer to used homophones (e.g., pet NL-'hat') rather than loan words. Secondly, it is incorrect to say the brain region for meel (flour) lit up when the bilinguals heard mail. Rather, we were able to infer from the bilinguals' EEG brain responses that both meanings of these homophones were activated. See Chapter 4 of my Thesis for more information.
NRC Handelsblad: Woordnieuws

Radio 5 featured a short interview with me about my research in the programme Hoe?Zo! on March 15th, 2011.
NPO Radio 5: Hoe?Zo! Radio

I was chosen as 'promovendus van de week' (PhD graduate of the week) on March 15th, 2011 for BNR Nieuwsradio's programme Denktenk. Here is the segment with the short (1 minute) summary of my work (Dutch only).
BNR Nieuwsradio: Denktenk


  • Introduction to statistics using R (Bachelor), Heinrich-Heine Unviversität, Düsseldorf
  • Introduction to experimental methods (Bachelor), Heinrich-Heine Unviversität, Düsseldorf
  • Intorduction to neurolinguistics (Master), Heinrich-Heine Unviversität, Düsseldorf
  • Neurocognitive aspects of bilingualism (Master), Heinrich-Heine Unviversität, Düsseldorf