It has been debated how bilinguals select the intended language and prevent interference from the unintended language when speaking. Here, we studied the nature of the mental representations accessed by late fluent bilinguals during a rhyming judgment task relying on covert speech production. We recorded event-related brain potentials in Chinese–English bilinguals and monolingual speakers of English while they indicated whether the names of pictures presented on a screen rhymed. Whether bilingual participants focussed on rhyming selectively in English or Chinese, we found a significant priming effect of language-specific sound repetition. Surprisingly, however, sound repetitions in Chinese elicited significant priming effects even when the rhyming task was performed in English. This cross-language priming effect was delayed by ∼200 ms as compared to the within-language effect and was asymmetric, since there was no priming effect of sound repetitions in English when participants were asked to make rhyming judgments in Chinese. These results demonstrate that second language production hinders, but does not seal off, activation of the first language, whereas native language production appears immune to competition from the second language.
ERP; bilingualism; language production; cognitive control; inhibition
Many recent studies demonstrate that both languages are active when bilinguals and second language (L2) learners are reading, listening, or speaking one language only. The parallel activity of the two languages has been hypothesized to create competition that must be resolved. Models of bilingual lexical access have proposed an inhibitory control mechanism to effectively limit attention to the intended language (e.g., Green, 1998). Critically, other recent research suggests that a lifetime of experience as a bilingual negotiating the competition across the two languages confers a set of benefits to cognitive control processes more generally (e.g., Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004). However, few studies have examined the consequences of individual differences in inhibitory control for performance on language processing tasks. The goal of the present work was to determine whether there is a relation between enhanced executive function and performance for L2 learners and bilinguals on lexical comprehension and production tasks. Data were analyzed from two studies involving a range of language processing tasks, a working memory measure, and also the Simon task, a nonlinguistic measure of inhibitory control. The results demonstrate that greater working memory resources and enhanced inhibitory control are related to a reduction in cross-language activation in a sentence context word naming task and a picture naming task, respectively. Other factors that may be related to inhibitory control are identified. The implications of these results for models of bilingual lexical comprehension and production are discussed.
How do the two languages of bilingual individuals interact in everyday communication? Numerous behavioral- and event-related brain potential studies have suggested that information from the non-target language is spontaneously accessed when bilinguals read, listen, or speak in a given language. While this finding is consistent with predictions of current models of bilingual processing, most paradigms used so far have mixed the two languages by using language ambiguous stimuli (e.g., cognates or interlingual homographs) or explicitly engaging the two languages because of experimental task requirements (e.g., word translation or language selection). These paradigms will have yielded different language processing contexts, the effect of which has seldom been taken into consideration. We propose that future studies should test the effect of language context on cross-language interactions in a systematic way, by controlling and manipulating the extent to which the experiment implicitly or explicitly prompts activation of the two languages.
bilingual comprehension and production; language context; language selection and inhibition; cognate; inter-lingual homograph
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.
Decades of research have shown that, from an early age, proficient bilinguals can speak each of their two languages separately (similar to monolinguals) or rapidly switch between them (dissimilar to monolinguals). Thus we ask do monolingual and bilingual brains process language similarly or dissimilarly, and is this affected by the language context? Using an innovative brain imaging technology, functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), we investigated how adult bilinguals process semantic information, both in speech and in print, in a monolingual language context (one language at a time) or in a bilingual language context (two languages in rapid alternation). While undergoing fNIRS recording, ten early-exposed, highly-proficient Spanish-English bilinguals completed a Semantic Judgment task in monolingual and bilingual contexts, and were compared to ten English monolingual controls. Two hypotheses were tested: the Signature Hypothesis predicts that early, highly proficient bilinguals will recruit neural tissue to process language differently from monolinguals across all language contexts. The Switching Hypothesis predicts that bilinguals will recruit neural tissue to process language similarly to monolinguals, when using one language at a time. Supporting the Signature Hypothesis, in the monolingual context, bilinguals and monolinguals showed differences in both hemispheres in the recruitment of DLPFC (BA 46/9) and IFC (BA 47/11), but similar recruitment of Broca’s area (BA 44/45). In particular, in the monolingual context, bilinguals showed greater signal intensity in channels maximally overlaying DLPFC and IFC regions as compared to monolinguals. In the bilingual context, bilinguals demonstrated a more robust recruitment of right DLPFC and right IFC. These findings reveal how extensive early bilingual exposure modifies language organization in the brain—thus imparting a possible “bilingual signature.” They further shed fascinating new light on how the bilingual brain may reveal the biological extent of the neural architecture underlying all human language and the language processing potential not fully recruited in the monolingual brain.
Cross-linguistic differences in emotionality of autobiographical memories were examined by eliciting memories of immigration from bilingual speakers. Forty-seven Russian-English bilinguals were asked to recount their immigration experiences in either Russian or English. Bilinguals used more emotion words when describing their immigration experiences in the second language (English) than in the first language (Russian). Bilinguals' immigration narratives contained more negative emotion words than positive emotion words. In addition, language preference (but not language proficiency) influenced results, with emotional expression amplified when speaking in the preferred language. These findings carry implications for organization of the bilingual lexicon and the special status of emotion words within it. We suggest that bilinguals' expression of emotion may vary across languages and that the linguistic and affective systems are interconnected in the bilingual cognitive architecture.
This article provides an overview of bilingualism research on visual word recognition in isolation and in sentence context. Many studies investigating the processing of words out-of-context have shown that lexical representations from both languages are activated when reading in one language (language-non-selective lexical access). A newly developed research line asks whether language-non-selective access generalizes to word recognition in sentence contexts, providing a language cue and/or semantic constraint information for upcoming words. Recent studies suggest that the language of the preceding words is insufficient to restrict lexical access to words of the target language, even when reading in the native language. Eye tracking studies revealing the time course of word activation further showed that semantic constraint does not restrict language-non-selective access at early reading stages, but there is evidence that it has a relatively late effect. The theoretical implications for theories of bilingual word recognition are discussed in light of the Bilingual Interactive Activation+ model (Dijkstra and van Heuven, 2002).
bilingualism; visual word recognition; sentence processing; eye tracking
Bilinguals often outperform monolinguals on nonverbal tasks that require resolving conflict from competing alternatives. The regular need to select a target language is argued to enhance executive control. We investigated whether this enhancement stems from a general effect of bilingualism (the representation of two languages) or from a modality constraint that forces language selection. Bimodal bilinguals can, but do not always, sign and speak at the same time. Their two languages involve distinct motor and perceptual systems, leading to weaker demands on language control. We compared the performance of 15 monolinguals, 15 bimodal bilinguals, and 15 unimodal bilinguals on a set of flanker tasks. There were no group differences in accuracy, but unimodal bilinguals were faster than the other groups; bimodal bilinguals did not differ from monolinguals. These results trace the bilingual advantage in cognitive control to the unimodal bilingual’s experience controlling two languages in the same modality.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that when bilinguals named pictures or read words aloud, in their native or nonnative language, activation was higher relative to monolinguals in 5 left hemisphere regions: dorsal precentral gyrus, pars triangularis, pars opercularis, superior temporal gyrus, and planum temporale. We further demonstrate that these areas are sensitive to increasing demands on speech production in monolinguals. This suggests that the advantage of being bilingual comes at the expense of increased work in brain areas that support monolingual word processing. By comparing the effect of bilingualism across a range of tasks, we argue that activation is higher in bilinguals compared with monolinguals because word retrieval is more demanding; articulation of each word is less rehearsed; and speech output needs careful monitoring to avoid errors when competition for word selection occurs between, as well as within, language.
bilingualism; control; fMRI; frequency; picture naming; reading
The large majority of humankind is more or less fluent in 2 or even more languages. This raises the fundamental question how the language network in the brain is organized such that the correct target language is selected at a particular occasion. Here we present behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging data showing that bilingual processing leads to language conflict in the bilingual brain even when the bilinguals’ task only required target language knowledge. This finding demonstrates that the bilingual brain cannot avoid language conflict, because words from the target and nontarget languages become automatically activated during reading. Importantly, stimulus-based language conflict was found in brain regions in the LIPC associated with phonological and semantic processing, whereas response-based language conflict was only found in the pre-supplementary motor area/anterior cingulate cortex when language conflict leads to response conflicts.
event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging; interlingual homographs; lexical decision; pre-supplementary motor area and anterior cingulated; response conflict
To examine how age of immersion and proficiency in a 2nd language influence speech movement variability and speaking rate in both a 1st language and a 2nd language.
A group of 21 Bengali–English bilingual speakers participated. Lip and jaw movements were recorded. For all 21 speakers, lip movement variability was assessed based on productions of Bengali (L1; 1st language) and English (L2; 2nd language) sentences. For analyses related to the influence of L2 proficiency on speech production processes, participants were sorted into low- (n = 7) and high-proficiency (n = 7) groups. Lip movement variability and speech rate were evaluated for both of these groups across L1 and L2 sentences.
Surprisingly, adult bilingual speakers produced equally consistent speech movement patterns in their production of L1 and L2. When groups were sorted according to proficiency, highly proficient speakers were marginally more variable in their L1. In addition, there were some phoneme-specific effects, most markedly that segments not shared by both languages were treated differently in production. Consistent with previous studies, movement durations were longer for less proficient speakers in both L1 and L2.
In contrast to those of child learners, the speech motor systems of adult L2 speakers show a high degree of consistency. Such lack of variability presumably contributes to protracted difficulties with acquiring nativelike pronunciation in L2. The proficiency results suggest bidirectional interactions across L1 and L2, which is consistent with hypotheses regarding interference and the sharing of phonological space. A slower speech rate in less proficient speakers implies that there are increased task demands on speech production processes.
bilingual; speech motor control; variability; Bengali
Bilingual language production requires that speakers recruit inhibitory control (IC) to optimally balance the activation of more than one linguistic system when they produce speech. Moreover, the amount of IC necessary to maintain an optimal balance is likely to vary across individuals as a function of second language (L2) proficiency and inhibitory capacity, as well as the demands of a particular communicative situation. Here, we investigate how these factors relate to bilingual language production across monologue and dialogue spontaneous speech. In these tasks, 42 English–French and French–English bilinguals produced spontaneous speech in their first language (L1) and their L2, with and without a conversational partner. Participants also completed a separate battery that assessed L2 proficiency and inhibitory capacity. The results showed that L2 vs. L1 production was generally more effortful, as was dialogue vs. monologue speech production although the clarity of what was produced was higher for dialogues vs. monologues. As well, language production effort significantly varied as a function of individual differences in L2 proficiency and inhibitory capacity. Taken together, the overall pattern of findings suggests that both increased L2 proficiency and inhibitory capacity relate to efficient language production during spontaneous monologue and dialogue speech.
bilingualism; dialogue; monologue; inhibition; proficiency
Behavioral studies with proficient late bilinguals have revealed the existence of orthographic neighborhood density (ND) effects across languages when participants read either in their first (L1) or second (L2) language. Words with many cross-language (CL) neighbors have been found to elicit more negative event-related potentials (ERPs) than words with few CL neighbors (Midgley et al., 2008); the effect started earlier, and was larger, for L2 words. Here, 14 late and 14 early English-Welsh bilinguals performed a semantic categorization task on English and Welsh words presented in separate blocks. The pattern of CL activation was different for the two groups of bilinguals. In late bilinguals, words with high CLND elicited more negative ERP amplitudes than words with low CLND starting around 175 ms after word onset and lasting until 500 ms. This effect interacted with language in the 300–500 ms time window. A more complex pattern of early effects was revealed in early bilinguals and there were no effects in the N400 window. These results suggest that CL activation of orthographic neighbors is highly sensitive to the bilinguals’ learning experience of the two languages.
bilingualism; ERPs; neighborhood density; reading; orthography
‘Language shift’ is the process whereby members of a community in which more than one language is spoken abandon their original vernacular language in favour of another. The historical shifts to English by Celtic language speakers of Britain and Ireland are particularly well-studied examples for which good census data exist for the most recent 100–120 years in many areas where Celtic languages were once the prevailing vernaculars. We model the dynamics of language shift as a competition process in which the numbers of speakers of each language (both monolingual and bilingual) vary as a function both of internal recruitment (as the net outcome of birth, death, immigration and emigration rates of native speakers), and of gains and losses owing to language shift. We examine two models: a basic model in which bilingualism is simply the transitional state for households moving between alternative monolingual states, and a diglossia model in which there is an additional demand for the endangered language as the preferred medium of communication in some restricted sociolinguistic domain, superimposed on the basic shift dynamics. Fitting our models to census data, we successfully reproduce the demographic trajectories of both languages over the past century. We estimate the rates of recruitment of new Scottish Gaelic speakers that would be required each year (for instance, through school education) to counteract the ‘natural wastage’ as households with one or more Gaelic speakers fail to transmit the language to the next generation informally, for different rates of loss during informal intergenerational transmission.
language competition; Celtic; Gaelic; Welsh; reaction–diffusion; intergenerational transmission
Parallel language activation in bilinguals leads to competition between languages. Experience managing this interference may aid novel language learning by improving the ability to suppress competition from known languages. To investigate the effect of bilingualism on the ability to control native-language interference, monolinguals and bilinguals were taught an artificial language designed to elicit between-language competition. Partial activation of interlingual competitors was assessed with eye-tracking and mouse-tracking during a word recognition task in the novel language. Eye-tracking results showed that monolinguals looked at competitors more than bilinguals, and for a longer duration of time. Mouse-tracking results showed that monolinguals’ mouse-movements were attracted to native-language competitors, while bilinguals overcame competitor interference by increasing activation of target items. Results suggest that bilinguals manage cross-linguistic interference more effectively than monolinguals. We conclude that language interference can affect lexical retrieval, but bilingualism may reduce this interference by facilitating access to a newly-learned language.
language processing; bilingualism; language interference; language learning; eye-tracking; mouse-tracking
To examine stuttering by children speaking an alternative language exclusively (LE) or with English (BIL) and to study onset of stuttering, school performance and recovery rate relative to monolingual speakers who stutter (MONO).
Clinical referral sample with supplementary data obtained from speech recordings and interviews.
South-East England, 1999–2007.
Children aged 8–12 plus who stuttered (monolingual and bilingual) and fluent bilingual controls (FB).
Main outcome measures:
Participants’ stuttering history, SATS scores, measures of recovery or persistence of stuttering.
69 (21.8%) of 317 children were bilingual. Of 38 children who used a language other than English at home, 36 (94.7%) stuttered in both languages. Fewer LE (15/38, 39.5%) than BIL (23/38, 60.5%) children stuttered at first referral to clinic, but more children in the fluent control sample were LE (28/38, 73.7%) than BIL (10/38, 26.3%). The association between stuttering and bilingual group (LE/BIL) was significant by χ2 test; BIL speakers have more chance of stuttering than LE speakers. Age at stuttering onset and male/female ratio for LE, BIL and MONO speakers were similar (4 years 9 months, 4 years 10 months and 4 years 3 months, and 4.1:1, 4.75:1 and 4.43:1, respectively). Educational achievement was not affected by bilingualism relative to the MONO and FB groups. The recovery rate for the LE and MONO controls together (55%) was significantly higher by χ2 test than for the BIL group (25%).
BIL children had an increased risk of stuttering and a lower chance of recovery from stuttering than LE and MONO speakers.
Recent investigations of language gains following treatment in bilingual individuals with chronic aphasia appear to confirm early reports that not only the treated language but also the non-treated language(s) benefit from treatment. The evidence, however, is still suggestive, and the variables that may mitigate generalisation across languages warrant further investigation.
We set out to examine cross-language generalisation of language treatment in a trilingual speaker with mild chronic aphasia.
Methods & Procedures
Language treatment was administered in English, the participant’s second language (L2). The first treatment block focused on morphosyntactic skills and the second on language production rate. Measurements were collected in the treated language (English, L2) as well as the two non-treated languages: Hebrew (the participant’s first language, L1) and French (the participant’s third language, L3).
Outcomes & Results
The participant showed improvement in his production of selected morphosyntactic elements, such as pronoun gender agreement, in the treated language (L2) as well as in the non-treated French (L3) following the treatment block that focused on morphosyntactic skills. Speech rate also improved in English (L2) and French (L3) following that treatment block. No changes were observed in Hebrew, the participant’s L1.
Selective cross-language generalisation of treatment benefit was found for morphosyntactic abilities from the participant’s second language to his third language.
Aphasia; Trilingual; Treatment; Cross-language generalisation; Morphosyntax
Bilinguals have been shown to activate their two languages in parallel, and this process can often be attributed to overlap in input between the two languages. The present study examines whether two languages that do not overlap in input structure, and that have distinct phonological systems, such as American Sign Language (ASL) and English, are also activated in parallel. Hearing ASL-English bimodal bilinguals’ and English monolinguals’ eye-movements were recorded during a visual world paradigm, in which participants were instructed, in English, to select objects from a display. In critical trials, the target item appeared with a competing item that overlapped with the target in ASL phonology. Bimodal bilinguals looked more at competing items than at phonologically unrelated items, and looked more at competing items relative to monolinguals, indicating activation of the sign-language during spoken English comprehension. The findings suggest that language co-activation is not modality specific, and provide insight into the mechanisms that may underlie cross-modal language co-activation in bimodal bilinguals, including the role that top-down and lateral connections between levels of processing may play in language comprehension.
Bilingualism; Language Processing; American Sign Language
It is well established that monolingual preschoolers’ oral language development (vocabulary and oral comprehension) contributes to their later reading abilities; however, less is known about this relationship in bilingual populations where children are developing knowledge of two languages. It may be that children’s abilities in one language do not contribute to their reading abilities in their other language or that children’s experiences with either language assist them in developing a common underlying proficiency that they draw upon when learning to read. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship among bilingual children’s receptive language development and reading outcomes in first grade. Eighty-one bilingual children who were attending Head Start participated in the study. Growth curve models were used to examine the relationship between children’s language abilities during two years in Head Start and reading outcomes at the end of first grade. Children’s growth in both English and Spanish receptive vocabulary and oral comprehension predicted their English and Spanish reading abilities at the end of first grade within languages. Associations were also observed between languages with growth in English receptive language predicting Spanish reading comprehension and growth in Spanish receptive language predicting English reading comprehension.
We examined the voice onset times (VOTs) of monolingual and bilingual speakers of English and French to address the question whether cross language phonetic influences occur particularly in simultaneous bilinguals (that is, speakers who learned both languages from birth). Speakers produced sentences in which there were target words with initial /p/, /t/ or /k/. In French, natively bilingual speakers produced VOTs that were significantly longer than those of monolingual French speakers. French VOTs were even longer in bilingual speakers who learned English before learning French. The outcome was analogous in English speech. Natively bilingual speakers produced shorter English VOTs than monolingual speakers. English VOTs were even shorter in the speech of bilinguals who learned French before English. Bilingual speakers had significantly longer VOTs in their English speech than in their French. Accordingly, the cross language effects do not occur because natively bilingual speakers adopt voiceless stop categories intermediate between those of native English and French speakers that serve both languages. Monolingual speakers of French or English in Montreal had VOTs nearly identical respectively to those of monolingual Parisian French speakers and those of monolingual Connecticut English speakers. These results suggest that mere exposure to a second language does not underlie the cross language phonetic effect; however, these findings must be resolved with others that appear to show an effect of overhearing.
The brain basis of bilinguals’ ability to use two languages at the same time has been a hotly debated topic. On the one hand, behavioral research has suggested that bilingual dual language use involves complex and highly principled linguistic processes. On the other hand, brain-imaging research has revealed that bilingual language switching involves neural activations in brain areas dedicated to general executive functions not specific to language processing, such as general task maintenance. Here we address the involvement of language-specific versus cognitive-general brain mechanisms for bilingual language processing by studying a unique population and using an innovative brain-imaging technology: bimodal bilinguals proficient in signed and spoken languages and functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS; Hitachi ETG-4000), which, like fMRI, measures hemodynamic change, but which is also advanced in permitting movement for unconstrained speech and sign production. Participant groups included (i) hearing ASL-English bilinguals, (ii) ASL monolinguals, and (iii) English monolinguals. Imaging tasks included picture naming in “Monolingual mode” (using one language at a time) and in “Bilingual mode” (using both languages either simultaneously or in rapid alternation). Behavioral results revealed that accuracy was similar among groups and conditions. By contrast, neuroimaging results revealed that bilinguals in Bilingual mode showed greater signal intensity within posterior temporal regions (“Wernicke’s area”) than in Monolingual mode. Significance: Bilinguals’ ability to use two languages effortlessly and without confusion involves the use of language-specific posterior temporal brain regions. This research with both fNIRS and bimodal bilinguals sheds new light on the extent and variability of brain tissue that underlies language processing, and addresses the tantalizing questions of how language modality, sign and speech, impact language representation in the brain.
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.
The purpose of this study is twofold: (a) to examine whether English finite morphology has the potential to differentiate children with and without language impairment (LI) from Spanish-speaking backgrounds and different levels of English proficiency in comparison to Hispanic English speakers and (b) to investigate the extent to which children who are bilingual exhibit differences in their grammatical performance because of cross-linguistic influence from their first language. Seventy-one children between the ages of 4 years, 5 months and 6 years, 5 months were distributed into the following five groups: English as a first language (EL1) speakers with typical language development (TLD), EL1 speakers with LI, Spanish–English bilinguals with TLD, Spanish–English bilinguals with LI, and English as a second language (EL2) learners with TLD were compared on regular verb finiteness and nominative subject use using spontaneous narrative samples. The EL1 children with LI had significantly lower verb accuracy rates than the EL1 controls with TLD. Verb finiteness marking was also a significant discriminator for the bilinguals with LI. There was no evidence of cross-linguistic influence, however. The analysis indicated no significant differences between EL1 and bilingual children on subject or verb use. The EL2 group only presented difficulties with finite verb use. The typological differences between English and Spanish for overt subject use did not seem to affect the performance of either typical or atypical bilingual learners. The findings underscore the need for addressing language dominance in future bilingual studies.
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.
Research on the processing of translations offers important insights on how bilinguals negotiate the representation of words from two languages in one mind and one brain. Evidence so far has shown that translation equivalents effectively activate each other as well as their shared concept even when translations lack of any formal overlap (i.e., non-cognates) and even when one of them is presented subliminally, namely under masked priming conditions. In the lexical decision studies testing masked translation priming effects with unbalanced bilinguals a remarkably stable pattern emerges: larger effects in the dominant (L1) to the non-dominant (L2) translation direction, than vice versa. Interestingly, this asymmetry vanishes when simultaneous and balanced bilinguals are tested, suggesting that the linguistic profile of the bilinguals could be determining the pattern of cross-language lexico-semantic activation across the L2 learning trajectory. The present study aims to detect whether L2 proficiency is the critical variable rendering the otherwise asymmetric cross-language activation of translations obtained in the lexical decision task into symmetric. Non-cognate masked translation priming effects were examined with three groups of Greek (L1)–English (L2) unbalanced bilinguals, differing exclusively at their level of L2 proficiency. Although increased L2 proficiency led to improved overall L2 performance, masked translation priming effects were virtually identical across the three groups, yielding in all cases significant but asymmetric effects (i.e., larger effects in the L1 → L2 than in the L2 → L1 translation direction). These findings show that proficiency does not modulate masked translation priming effects at intermediate levels, and that a native-like level of L2 proficiency is needed for symmetric effects to emerge. They furthermore, pose important constraints on the operation of the mechanisms underlying the development of cross-language lexico-semantic links.
bilingualism; masked translation priming; proficiency