Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Published by Cambridge University Press

Online ISSN: 1469-1841


Print ISSN: 1366-7289


Figure 1. Mean BESOS scores by language group based on averaged input and output.
Figure 2. Mean BESOS scores by decile categories of averaged English use. 
Figure 3. Mean correct responses for each screener subtest (morphosyntax and semantics in Spanish and English) calculated for each first English exposure year. 
Table 3 . Cross tabulation of dominance scores based on input and output. Output
Table 4 . Cross tabulation of dominance scores based on semantic vs. morphosyntactic performance on the BESOS. Semantics
The measure matters: Language dominance profiles across measures in Spanish-English bilingual children
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July 2012


1,123 Reads






The purpose of this study was to determine if different language measures resulted in the same classifications of language dominance and proficiency for a group of bilingual pre-kindergarteners and kindergarteners. Data were analyzed for 1029 Spanish-English bilingual pre-kindergarteners who spanned the full range of bilingual language proficiency. Parent questionnaires were used to quantify age of first exposure and current language use. Scores from a short test of semantic and morphosyntactic development in Spanish and English were used to quantify children's performance. Some children who were in the functionally monolingual range based on interview data demonstrated minimal knowledge of their other languages when tested. Current use accounted for more of the variance in language dominance than did age of first exposure. Results indicate that at different levels of language exposure children differed in their performance on semantic and morphosyntax tasks. These patterns suggest that it may be difficult to compare the results of studies that employ different measures of language dominance and proficiency. Current use is likely to be a useful metric of bilingual development that can be used to build a comprehensive picture of child bilingualism.

Japanese and English sentence reading comprehension and writing systems: An fMRI study of first and second language effects on brain activation

April 2009


4,402 Reads

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to compare brain activation from Japanese readers reading hiragana (syllabic) and kanji (logographic) sentences, and English as a second language (L2). Kanji showed more activation than hiragana in right-hemisphere occipito-temporal lobe areas associated with visuospatial processing; hiragana, in turn, showed more activation than kanji in areas of the brain associated with phonological processing. L1 results underscore the difference in visuospatial and phonological processing demands between the systems. Reading in English as compared to either of the Japanese systems showed more activation in inferior frontal gyrus, medial frontal gyrus, and angular gyrus. The additional activation in English in these areas may have been associated with an increased cognitive demand for phonological processing and verbal working memory. More generally, L2 results suggest more effortful reading comprehension processes. The study contributes to the understanding of differential brain responses to different writing systems and to reading comprehension in a second language.

Implicit language learning: Adults' ability to segment words in Norwegian

October 2010


210 Reads

Previous language learning research reveals that the statistical properties of the input offer sufficient information to allow listeners to segment words from fluent speech in an artificial language. The current pair of studies uses a natural language to test the ecological validity of these findings and to determine whether a listener's language background influences this process. In Study 1, the "guessibility" of potential test words from the Norwegian language was presented to 22 listeners who were asked to differentiate between true words and nonwords. In Study 2, 22 adults who spoke one of 12 different primary languages learned to segment words from continuous speech in an implicit language learning paradigm. The task consisted of two sessions, approximately three weeks apart, each requiring participants to listen to 7.2 minutes of Norwegian sentences followed by a series of bisyllabic test items presented in isolation. The participants differentially accepted the Norwegian words and Norwegian-like nonwords in both test sessions, demonstrating the capability to segment true words from running speech. The results were consistent across three broadly-defined language groups, despite differences in participants' language background.

Figure 1.  
Table 2
Table 4
Processing subject-verb agreement in a second language depends on proficiency

April 2010


481 Reads

Subject-verb agreement is a computation that is often difficult to execute perfectly in the first language (L1) and even more difficult to produce skillfully in a second language (L2). In this study, we examined the way in which bilingual speakers complete sentence fragments in a manner that reflects access to both grammatical and conceptual number. In two experiments, we show that bilingual speakers are sensitive to both grammatical and conceptual number in the L1 and grammatical number agreement in the L2. However, only highly proficient bilinguals are also sensitive to conceptual number in the L2. The results suggest that the extent to which speakers are able to exploit conceptual information during speech planning depends on the level of language proficiency.

The effects of learning American Sign Language on co-speech gesture

October 2012


169 Reads

Given that the linguistic articulators for sign language are also used to produce co-speech gesture, we examined whether one year of academic instruction in American Sign Language (ASL) impacts the rate and nature of gestures produced when speaking English. A survey study revealed that 75% of ASL learners (N = 95), but only 14% of Romance language learners (N = 203), felt that they gestured more after one year of language instruction. A longitudinal study confirmed this perception. Twenty-one ASL learners and 20 Romance language learners (French, Italian, Spanish) were filmed re-telling a cartoon story before and after one academic year of language instruction. Only the ASL learners exhibited an increase in gesture rate, an increase in the production of iconic gestures, and an increase in the number of handshape types exploited in co-speech gesture. Five ASL students also produced at least one ASL sign when re-telling the cartoon. We suggest that learning ASL may (i) lower the neural threshold for co-speech gesture production, (ii) pose a unique challenge for language control, and (iii) have the potential to improve cognitive processes that are linked to gesture.

The Revised Hierarchical Model: A critical review and assessment

July 2010


1,887 Reads

Brysbaert and Duyck (2009) suggest that it is time to abandon the Revised Hierarchical Model (Kroll and Stewart, 1994) in favor of connectionist models such as BIA+ (Dijkstra and Van Heuven, 2002) that more accurately account for the recent evidence on nonselective access in bilingual word recognition. In this brief response, we first review the history of the Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM), consider the set of issues that it was proposed to address, and then evaluate the evidence that supports and fails to support the initial claims of the model. Although 15 years of new research findings require a number of revisions to the RHM, we argue that the central issues to which the model was addressed, the way in which new lexical forms are mapped to meaning and the consequence of language learning history for lexical processing, cannot be accounted for solely within models of word recognition.

Direction asymmetries in spoken and signed language interpreting

July 2013


141 Reads

Spoken language (unimodal) interpreters often prefer to interpret from their non-dominant language (L2) into their native language (L1). Anecdotally, signed language (bimodal) interpreters express the opposite bias, preferring to interpret from L1 (spoken language) into L2 (signed language). We conducted a large survey study (N=1,359) of both unimodal and bimodal interpreters that confirmed these preferences. The L1 to L2 direction preference was stronger for novice than expert bimodal interpreters, while novice and expert unimodal interpreters did not differ from each other. The results indicated that the different direction preferences for bimodal and unimodal interpreters cannot be explained by language production-comprehension asymmetries or by work or training experiences. We suggest that modality and language-specific features of signed languages drive the directionality preferences of bimodal interpreters. Specifically, we propose that fingerspelling, transcoding (literal word-for-word translation), self-monitoring, and consumers' linguistic variation influence the preference of bimodal interpreters for working into their L2.

Native-language benefit for understanding speech-in-noise: The contribution of semantics

July 2009


99 Reads

Bilinguals are better able to perceive speech-in-noise in their native compared to their non-native language. This benefit is thought to be due to greater use of higher-level, linguistic context in the native language. Previous studies showing this have used sentences and do not allow us to determine which level of language contributes to this context benefit. Here, we used a new paradigm that isolates the SEMANTIC level of speech, in both languages of bilinguals. Results revealed that in the native language, a semantically related target word facilitates the perception of a previously presented degraded prime word relative to when a semantically unrelated target follows the prime, suggesting a specific contribution of semantics to the native language context benefit. We also found the reverse in the non-native language, where there was a disadvantage of semantic coext on word recognition, suggesting that such top-down, contextual information results in semantic interference in one's second language.

Figure 1. Language Competence/Expressive Proficiency Task. Sample frames/events from the cartoon. 
Participant groups' average performance on each task (standard deviations in brackets). Phoneme awareness and reading task scores are presented as raw numbers of correct items and LCEP scores are presented as % correct and number of events. 
Age of bilingual language exposure as a new window into bilingual reading development

July 2008


1,353 Reads

How does age of first bilingual language exposure affect reading development in children learning to read in both of their languages? Is there a reading advantage for monolingual English children who are educated in bilingual schools? We studied children (grades 2-3, ages 7-9) in bilingual Spanish-English schools who were either from Spanish-speaking homes (new to English) or English-speaking homes (new to Spanish), as compared with English-speaking children in monolingual English schools. An early age of first bilingual language exposure had a positive effect on reading, phonological awareness, and language competence in both languages: early bilinguals (age of first exposure 0-3 years) outperformed other bilingual groups (age of first exposure 3-6 years). Remarkably, schooling in two languages afforded children from monolingual English homes an advantage in phoneme awareness skills. Early bilingual exposure is best for dual language reading development, and it may afford such a powerful positive impact on reading and language development that it may possibly ameliorate the negative effect of low SES on literacy. Further, age of first bilingual exposure provides a new tool for evaluating whether a young bilingual has a reading problem versus whether he or she is a typically-developing dual-language learner.

Lexical profiles of bilingual children with primary language impairment

October 2014


114 Reads

This study used lexical tasks to examine associations between languages, tasks, and age in bilingual children with primary language impairment. Participants (n = 41, mean age 8;8 years) lived in the United States, spoke primarily Spanish (L1) at home and English (L2) at school, and were identified with moderate to severe impairments in both languages. A total of eight tasks (four in each language) measured breadth of vocabulary knowledge (receptive and expressive vocabulary) and aspects of lexical processing (rapid automatic naming and nonword repetition). Correlational analyses revealed older children outperformed younger children on lexical tasks in L2 but not L1, as well as relative L2 dominance for most individuals and tasks. Positive associations were found between languages on processing-based tasks but not vocabulary measures. Findings were consistent with literature on typical bilingual learners, albeit with a notable increased risk of plateau in L1 growth. Results are interpreted within a Dynamic Systems framework.

Bimodal bilingualism

April 2008


7,158 Reads

Speech-sign or "bimodal" bilingualism is exceptional because distinct modalities allow for simultaneous production of two languages. We investigated the ramifications of this phenomenon for models of language production by eliciting language mixing from eleven hearing native users of American Sign Language (ASL) and English. Instead of switching between languages, bilinguals frequently produced code-blends (simultaneously produced English words and ASL signs). Code-blends resembled co-speech gesture with respect to synchronous vocal-manual timing and semantic equivalence. When ASL was the Matrix Language, no single-word code-blends were observed, suggesting stronger inhibition of English than ASL for these proficient bilinguals. We propose a model that accounts for similarities between co-speech gesture and code-blending and assumes interactions between ASL and English Formulators. The findings constrain language production models by demonstrating the possibility of simultaneously selecting two lexical representations (but not two propositions) for linguistic expression and by suggesting that lexical suppression is computationally more costly than lexical selection.

The timing and magnitude of Stroop interference and facilitation in monolinguals and bilinguals*

April 2013


612 Reads

Executive control abilities and lexical access speed in Stroop performance were investigated in English monolinguals and two groups of bilinguals (English-Chinese and Chinese-English) in their first (L1) and second (L2) languages. Predictions were based on a bilingual cognitive advantage hypothesis, implicating cognitive control ability as the critical factor determining Stroop interference; and two bilingual lexical disadvantage hypotheses, focusing on lexical access speed. Importantly, each hypothesis predicts different response patterns in a Stroop task manipulating stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). There was evidence for a bilingual cognitive advantage, although this effect was sensitive to a number of variables including proficiency, language immersion, and script. In lexical access speed, no differences occurred between monolinguals and bilinguals in their native languages, but there was evidence for a delay in L2 processing speed relative to the L1. Overall, the data highlight the multitude of factors affecting executive control and lexical access speed in bilinguals.

Figure 1. Positive effect of speaking Chinese or not (Chinese and English learning Chinese> English monolinguals and European multilinguals) P=0.05 corrected for whole brain analyses.  
Exploring cross-linguistic vocabulary effects on brain structures using voxel-based morphometry

August 2007


237 Reads

Given that there are neural markers for the acquisition of a non-verbal skill, we review evidence of neural markers for the acquisition of vocabulary. Acquiring vocabulary is critical to learning one's native language and to learning other languages. Acquisition requires the ability to link an object concept (meaning) to sound. Is there a region sensitive to vocabulary knowledge? For monolingual English speakers, increased vocabulary knowledge correlates with increased grey matter density in a region of the parietal cortex that is well-located to mediate an association between meaning and sound (the posterior supramarginal gyrus). Further this region also shows sensitivity to acquiring a second language. Relative to monolingual English speakers, Italian-English bilinguals show increased grey matter density in the same region.Differences as well as commonalities might exist in the neural markers for vocabulary where lexical distinctions are also signalled by tone. Relative to monolingual English, Chinese multilingual speakers, like European multilinguals, show increased grey matter density in the parietal region observed previously. However, irrespective of ethnicity, Chinese speakers (both Asian and European) also show highly significant increased grey matter density in two right hemisphere regions (the superior temporal gyrus and the inferior frontal gyrus). They also show increased grey matter density in two left hemisphere regions (middle temporal and superior temporal gyrus). Such increases may reflect additional resources required to process tonal distinctions for lexical purposes or to store tonal differences in order to distinguish lexical items. We conclude with a discussion of future lines of enquiry.

Figure 1. Endpoints of the /r–l/ series for each of the four (/a/, / œ /, /i/, and /u/) vowel contexts representing onsets and trajectories of the first through fourth formants. Stimuli within a vowel context differed from one another in only F3 onset frequency. 
Table 1 . Minimal pair words to test participants' perception of natural speech, divided by the position of the /r-l/ contrast.
Figure 2. Proportion /r/ response for each stimulus by native English (NE) listeners. Stimuli are presented here separated by vowel context; participants heard all stimuli intermixed. Those stimuli that were used for training in Experiment 1a are marked with large circles. [Editorial Note: See pages 434–5, this issue.] 
Figure 4. Level of difficulty for participants trained either with or without feedback as a function of training day. The y-axis is an indicator of difficulty: contexts where it is more difficult for native Japanese (NJ) listeners to differentiate high and low F3 onset frequencies are further from the origin. The portion of the axis marked “Amplitude” refers to those stimuli where non-F3 formants amplitudes are manipulated; values here indicate the percentage of the non-F3 formants present in the stimuli. The portion of the axis marked “Series” refers to those stimuli where non-F3 formants are fully present but the difference between low and high F3 onset frequencies has been reduced; values here indicate the difference (in Hz) between the onset frequencies. 
Can native Japanese listeners learn to differentiate /r–l/ on the basis of F3 onset frequency? – CORRIGENDUM

April 2012


18,559 Reads

Many attempts have been made to teach native Japanese listeners to perceptually differentiate English/r-l/(e.g. rock-lock). Though improvement is evident, in no case is final performance native English-like. We focused our training on the third formant onset frequency, shown to be the most reliable indicator of/r-l/category membership. We first presented listeners with instances of synthetic/r-l/stimuli varying only in F3 onset frequency, in a forced-choice identification training task with feedback. Evidence of learning was limited. The second experiment utilized an adaptive paradigm beginning with non-speech stimuli consisting only of/r/and/l/F3 frequency trajectories progressing to synthetic speech instances of/ra-la/; half of the trainees received feedback. Improvement was shown by some listeners, suggesting some enhancement of/r-l/identification is possible following training with only F3 onset frequency. However, only a subset of these listeners showed signs of generalization of the training effect beyond the trained synthetic context.

Table 1 Attributes of word stimuli (taken from Pastizzo and Feldman, 2002a) 
Table 2 
Morphological facilitation for regular and irregular verb formations in native and non-native speakers: Little evidence for two distinct mechanisms

April 2010


287 Reads

The authors compared performance on two variants of the primed lexical decision task to investigate morphological processing in native and non-native speakers of English. They examined patterns of facilitation on present tense targets. Primes were regular (billed-bill) past tense formations and two types of irregular past tense forms that varied on preservation of target length (fell-fall; taught-teach). When a forward mask preceded the prime (Exp. 1), language and prime type interacted. Native speakers showed reliable regular and irregular length preserved facilitation relative to orthographic controls. Non-native speakers' latencies after morphological and orthographic primes did not differ reliably except for regulars. Under cross-modal conditions (Exp. 2), language and prime type interacted. Native but not non-native speakers showed inhibition following orthographically similar primes. Collectively, reliable facilitation for regulars and patterns across verb type and task provided little support for a processing dichotomy (decomposition, non-combinatorial association) based on inflectional regularity in either native or non-native speakers of English.

Figure 1. 
The receptive-expressive gap in the vocabulary of young second-language learners: Robustness and possible mechanisms

January 2012


396 Reads

Adults and children learning a second language show difficulty accessing expressive vocabulary that appears accessible receptively in their first language (L1). We call this discrepancy the receptive-expressive gap. Kindergarten Spanish (L1) - English (L2) sequential bilinguals were given standardized tests of receptive and expressive vocabulary in both Spanish and English. We found a small receptive-expressive gap in English but a large receptive-expressive gap in Spanish. We categorized children as having had high or low levels of English exposure based on demographic variables and found that the receptive-expressive gap persisted across both levels of English exposure. Regression analyses revealed that variables predicting both receptive and expressive vocabulary scores failed to predict the receptive-expressive gap. The results suggest that the onset of the receptive-expressive gap in L1 must have been abrupt. We discuss possible mechanisms underlying the phenomenon.

Figure 1. The top panel shows, for English words, the percentage of neighbors that are English words and the percentage of neighbors that are Spanish words. The bottom panel shows, for Spanish words, the percentage of neighbors that are English words and the percentage of neighbors that are Spanish words. 
What do foreign neighbors say about the mental lexicon?

January 2012


125 Reads

A corpus analysis of phonological word-forms shows that English words have few phonological neighbors that are Spanish words. Concomitantly, Spanish words have few phonological neighbors that are English words. These observations appear to undermine certain accounts of bilingual language processing, and have significant implications for the processing and representation of word-forms in bilinguals.

The Handbook of Bilingualism

January 2008


203 Reads

Because the field of bilingualism is still relatively new, studies in the linguistics, psycholinguistics, language development and neurolinguistics of bilingualism have often produced conflicting results. It will be argued in this paper that some of the difficulties encountered by researchers could have been lessened, if not avoided, had close attention been paid to methodological and conceptual issues. Among the issues covered are bilingual participants, language mode, stimuli, tasks as well as models of bilingual representation and processing. Each issue is dealt with in the following way: first it is explained, then the problems it causes are discussed, and, finally, tentative solutions are proposed. Examples are taken from descriptive and experimental studies of normal bilingual adults and children as well as bilinguals suffering from aphasia and dementia.

Expressions of emotion as mediated by context

July 2008


383 Reads

Comments on an article by Aneta Pavlenko (see record 2008-10370-001). In her thoughtful work regarding various aspects of emotion and emotion related words, the author explores a variety of perspectives on how we might characterize and conceptualize expressions of emotion. It is a work that is quite rich in breadth - one that leads to a variety of different thoughts on this topic, many of which are amenable to experimental exploration. Pavlenko continues to dig deeper into the conceptualization of emotion by discussing the notion of "concept comparability". Pavlenko, models that consider the distributed properties of features across languages, such as the one devised by de Groot and others likely holds more promise in being able to describe the featural, semantic, and conceptual overlap that words share across languages--words that do not seem to have a one-to-one correspondence. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

Figure 1. Prototypical plot of sixth-grade students in treatment and comparison groups by language status.
Table 5 . Average vocabulary scores on all eleven longitudinal items by wave by language status. Scaled score Raw score
Language proficiency, home-language status, and English vocabulary development: A longitudinal follow-up of the Word Generation program

July 2012


455 Reads

This longitudinal quasi-experimental study examines the effects of Word Generation, a middle-school vocabulary intervention, on the learning, maintenance, and consolidation of academic vocabulary for students from English-speaking homes, proficient English speakers from language-minority homes, and limited English-proficiency students. Using individual growth modeling, we found that students receiving Word Generation improved more on target word knowledge during the instructional period than students in comparison schools did, on average. We found an interaction between instruction and home-language status such that English-proficient students from language-minority homes improved more than English-proficient students from English-speaking homes. Limited English-proficiency students, however, did not realize gains equivalent to those of more proficient students from language-minority homes during the instructional period. We administered follow-up assessments in the fall after the instructional period ended and in the spring of the following year to determine how well students maintained and consolidated target academic words. Students in the intervention group maintained their relative improvements at both follow-up assessments.

Testing Hulk & Müller (2000) on crosslinguistic influence: Root Infinitives in a bilingual German/English child

August 2003


537 Reads

This paper considers whether the findings on the referential properties of Root Infinitives in monolingual children (Wijnen, 1997; Hoekstra and Hyams, 1998) are replicated in a bilingual situation. Testing a proposal put forward by Hulk and Müller (2000), the present study investigates whether and how crosslinguistic influence manifests itself, using original longitudinal data from a bilingual German/English child. The bilingual results are found to be broadly consistent with the monolingual data: there is no indication of either quantitative or qualitative crosslinguistic influence. Consequently, it is argued that these data show that Hulk and Müller's proposal needs refining. Suggestions are made as to how this could be achieved.

Between the input and the acquisition lies the shadow

April 2004


31 Reads

Acquisition by Processing Theory (APT) is a unified account of language processing and learning that encompasses both L1 and L2 acquisition. Bold in aim and broad in scope, the proposal offers parsimony and comprehensiveness, both highly desirable in a theory of language acquisition. However, the sweep of the proposal is accompanied by an economy of description that makes it difficult to evaluate the validity of key learning claims, or even how literally they are to be interpreted. Two in particular deserve comment; the first concerns the learning mechanisms responsible for adding new L2 grammatical information, and the second the theoretical and empirical status of the activation concept used in the model.

Table 2 . Predicted article choices in L2 English, if the choice is influenced by accessing the specificity setting of the ACP (Fluctuation Hypothesis).
The representation of English articles in second language grammars: Determiners or adjectives?

March 2008


1,948 Reads

An article-choice study involving L1 Mandarin/L2 English bilinguals is reported. It tested two recent accounts on the representation of English articles in L2 grammars (where L1 has no articles). The Fluctuation Hypothesis (Ionin, Ko and Wexler, 2004) predicts that L2 speakers will have full access to UG, but will fluctuate between the settings of the postulated Article Choice Parameter; article choices will be influenced by [±specificity]. The syntactic misanalysis account, on which L2 articles are treated as adjectives (Trenkic, 2007), predicts that article choices will be influenced by the objective identifiability of referents. By discussing the notion of specificity and emphasising problems in its operationalisation, the current study introduces an innovative design to reveal that what was previously observed as the effect of specificity on L2 article choices (full UG access) is better described as an effect of the stated/denied familiarity with the referent (an extra-linguistic factor).

On the Temporal Delay Assumption and the Impact of Non-Linguistic Context Effects

December 2002


117 Reads

It is not easy to comment on Dijkstra and Van Heuven's model because there are many more aspects we agree with than aspects we feel uncomfortable about. Indeed, the BIA model has played an enormous role in showing us how bilingual visual word recognition can be achieved without recurrence to the intuitively appealing – but wrong – ideas of separate, language-specific lexicons and language-selective access. As in many other research areas, a working computational model has been much more influential in convincing critical readers (and researchers) than any series of empirical findings. The BIA+ model inherits this strength and, hopefully, in the coming years will be implemented in enough detail to exceed its predecessor. In the rest of this comment, we would like to put a cautionary note behind the temporal delay assumption introduced in the target article and provide some additional corroborating evidence for the lack of non-linguistic effects on early processes in the identification system.

The effect of form similarity on bilingual children's lexical development

August 2002


534 Reads

Previous studies of adult bilinguals have shown that cognates (translation equivalents similar in sound and spelling) are translated faster than non-cognates and different representations for the two categories in bilingual memory have been suggested (Kroll and Stewart 1994, van Hell and de Groot 1998). Assuming that bilingual children's representations are similar to those of adults, effects of form similarity between words should also be observed. This paper examines form-similar nouns in the early lexical development of a bilingual German/English child aged 1;119. Form similarity here differs from the cognate status of a word in that it implies similarity of sound only. Considering the way hearing children acquire words, it seemed necessary to restrict the similarity of words to this modality. Similarly, the presentation of items in the translation tasks was auditory. The results show an effect of form similarity in early lexical development, whereby form-similar words occurred frequently in the beginning of the observation period in both languages and were more likely to have a translation equivalent in the child's English. In the translation task, form similarity resulted in lower latencies for both language directions. The results thereby confirm that form similarity affects representations in both adult and child learners.

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