Individuals who acquire a second language (L2) after infancy often retain features of their native language (L1) accent. Cross-language priming studies have shown negative effects of L1 accent on L2 comprehension, but the role of specific speech features, such as lexical stress, is mostly unknown. Here, we investigate whether lexical stress and accent differently modulate semantic processing and cross-language lexical activation in Welsh–English bilinguals, given that English and Welsh differ substantially in terms of stress realisation. In an L2 cross-modal priming paradigm, we manipulated the stress pattern and accent of spoken primes, whilst participants made semantic relatedness judgments on visual word targets. Event-related brain potentials revealed a main effect of stress on target integration, such that stimuli with stress patterns compatible with either the L1 or L2 required less processing effort than stimuli with stress incompatible with both Welsh and English. An independent cross-language phonological overlap manipulation revealed an interaction between accent and L1 access. Interestingly, although it increased processing effort, incorrect stress did not significantly modulate semantic priming effects or covert access to L1 phonological representations. Our results are consistent with the concept of language-specific stress templates, and suggest that accent and lexical stress affect speech comprehension mechanisms differentially.
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