During speech comprehension, bilinguals co-activate both of their languages, resulting in cross-linguistic interaction at various levels of processing. This interaction has important consequences for both the structure of the language system and the mechanisms by which the system processes spoken language. Using computational modeling, we can examine how cross-linguistic interaction affects language processing in a controlled, simulated environment. Here we present a connectionist model of bilingual language processing, the Bilingual Language Interaction Network for Comprehension of Speech (BLINCS), wherein interconnected levels of processing are created using dynamic, self-organizing maps. BLINCS can account for a variety of psycholinguistic phenomena, including cross-linguistic interaction at and across multiple levels of processing, cognate facilitation effects, and audio-visual integration during speech comprehension. The model also provides a way to separate two languages without requiring a global language-identification system. We conclude that BLINCS serves as a promising new model of bilingual spoken language comprehension.
spoken language comprehension; modeling speech processing; connectionist models; self-organizing maps; language interaction
Previous research suggests that multilinguals’ languages are constantly co-activated and that experience managing this co-activation changes inhibitory control function. The present study examined language interaction and inhibitory control using a colour-word Stroop task. Multilingual participants were tested in their three most proficient languages. The classic Stroop effect was detected in all three languages, with participants performing more accurately on congruent than on incongruent trials. Multilinguals were faster and more accurate in the within-language-competition condition than in the between-language-competition condition, indicating that additional processing costs are required when stimulus and response languages differ. Language proficiency influenced speed, accuracy and error patterns in multilingual Stroop task performance. These findings augment our understanding of language processing and inhibitory control in multilingual populations and suggest that experience using multiple languages changes demands on cognitive function.
multilingualism; Stroop task; cognitive control; proficiency; within- and between-language interference
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
The ability to remember events – referred to as episodic memory – is typically subject to decline in older adulthood. Episodic memory decline has been attributed in part to less successful executive functioning, which may hinder an older adult’s ability to implement controlled encoding and retrieval processes. Since bilingual older adults often show more successful executive functioning than monolinguals, they may be better able to maintain episodic memory. To examine this hypothesis, we compared bilingual and monolingual older adults on a picture scene recall task (assessing episodic memory) and a Simon task (assessing executive functioning). Bilinguals exhibited better episodic memory than their monolingual peers, recalling significantly more items overall. Within the bilingual group, earlier second language acquisition and more years speaking two languages were associated with better recall. Bilinguals also demonstrated higher executive functioning, and there was evidence that level of executive functioning was related to memory performance. Results indicate that extensive practice controlling two languages may benefit episodic memory in older adults.
language; memory; aging; bilingualism
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
Bilinguals have been shown to outperform monolinguals at suppressing task-irrelevant information. The present study aimed to identify how processing linguistic ambiguity during auditory comprehension may be associated with inhibitory control. Monolinguals and bilinguals listened to words in their native language (English) and identified them among four pictures while their eye-movements were tracked. Each target picture (e.g., hamper) appeared together with a similar-sounding within-language competitor picture (e.g., hammer) and two neutral pictures. Following each eye-tracking trial, priming probe trials indexed residual activation of target words, and residual inhibition of competitor words. Eye-tracking showed similar within-language competition across groups; priming showed stronger competitor inhibition in monolinguals than in bilinguals, suggesting differences in how inhibitory control was used to resolve within-language competition. Notably, correlation analyses revealed that inhibition performance on a nonlinguistic Stroop task was related to linguistic competition resolution in bilinguals but not in monolinguals. Together, monolingual-bilingual comparisons suggest that cognitive control mechanisms can be shaped by linguistic experience.
Bilingualism; Inhibition; Language comprehension; Eye-tracking; Negative priming
Previous work on bilingual language processing indicates that native-language skills can influence second-language acquisition. The goal of the present work was to examine the influence of second-language experiences on native-language vocabulary and reading skills in two groups of bilingual speakers. English-Spanish and English-Mandarin bilingual adults were tested on vocabulary knowledge and reading fluency in English, their native language. Participants also provided detailed information regarding their history of second-language acquisition, including age of L2 acquisition, degree of L2 exposure, L2 proficiency, and preference of L2 use. Comparisons across the two bilingual groups revealed that both groups performed similarly on native-language vocabulary and reading measures. However, in English-Spanish bilinguals, higher self-reported reading skills in Spanish were associated with higher English reading-fluency scores, while in English-Mandarin bilinguals, higher self-reported reading skills in Mandarin were associated with lower English reading-fluency scores. These findings suggest that second-language experiences influence native-language performance, and can facilitate or reduce it depending on the properties of the second-language writing system.
L2 experience; vocabulary; reading fluency; bilingualism; transfer
Today, more of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual than monolingual. In addition to facilitating cross-cultural communication, this trend also positively affects cognitive abilities. Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.
Past research has demonstrated cross-linguistic, cross-modal, and task-dependent differences in neighborhood density effects, indicating a need to control for neighborhood variables when developing and interpreting research on language processing. The goals of the present paper are two-fold: (1) to introduce CLEARPOND (Cross-Linguistic Easy-Access Resource for Phonological and Orthographic Neighborhood Densities), a centralized database of phonological and orthographic neighborhood information, both within and between languages, for five commonly-studied languages: Dutch, English, French, German, and Spanish; and (2) to show how CLEARPOND can be used to compare general properties of phonological and orthographic neighborhoods across languages. CLEARPOND allows researchers to input a word or list of words and obtain phonological and orthographic neighbors, neighborhood densities, mean neighborhood frequencies, word lengths by number of phonemes and graphemes, and spoken-word frequencies. Neighbors can be defined by substitution, deletion, and/or addition, and the database can be queried separately along each metric or summed across all three. Neighborhood values can be obtained both within and across languages, and outputs can optionally be restricted to neighbors of higher frequency. To enable researchers to more quickly and easily develop stimuli, CLEARPOND can also be searched by features, generating lists of words that meet precise criteria, such as a specific range of neighborhood sizes, lexical frequencies, and/or word lengths. CLEARPOND is freely-available to researchers and the public as a searchable, online database and for download at http://clearpond.northwestern.edu.
In prior work, women were found to outperform men on short-term verbal memory tasks. The goal of the present work was to examine whether gender differences on short-term memory tasks are tied to the involvement of long-term memory in the learning process. In Experiment 1, men and women were compared on their ability to remember phonologically-familiar novel words and phonologically-unfamiliar novel words. Learning of phonologically-familiar novel words (but not of phonologically-unfamiliar novel words) can be supported by long-term phonological knowledge. Results revealed that women outperformed men on phonologically-familiar novel words, but not on phonologically-unfamiliar novel words. In Experiment 2, we replicated Experiment 1 using a within-subjects design, and confirmed gender differences on phonologically-familiar, but not phonologically-unfamiliar stimuli. These findings are interpreted to suggest that women are more likely than men to recruit native-language phonological knowledge during novel word-learning.
gender differences; word learning; phonology; short-term memory
Previous studies have indicated that bilingualism may influence the efficiency of lexical access in adults. The goals of this research were (1) to compare bilingual and monolingual adults on their native-language vocabulary performance, and (2) to examine the relationship between short-term memory skills and vocabulary performance in monolinguals and bilinguals. In Experiment 1, English-speaking monolingual adults and simultaneous English–Spanish bilingual adults were administered measures of receptive English vocabulary and of phonological short-term memory. In Experiment 2, monolingual adults were compared to sequential English–Spanish bilinguals, and were administered the same measures as in Experiment 1, as well as a measure of expressive English vocabulary. Analyses revealed comparable levels of performance on the vocabulary and the short-term memory measures in the monolingual and the bilingual groups across both experiments. There was a stronger effect of digit-span in the bilingual group than in the monolingual group, with high-span bilinguals outperforming low-span bilinguals on vocabulary measures. Findings indicate that bilingual speakers may rely on short-term memory resources to support word retrieval in their native language more than monolingual speakers.
sequential bilinguals; short-term memory; simultaneous bilinguals; vocabulary
We examined the influence of bilingual experience and inhibitory control on the ability to learn a novel language. Using a statistical learning paradigm, participants learned words in two novel languages that were based on the International Morse Code. First, participants listened to a continuous stream of words in a Morse code language to test their ability to segment words from continuous speech. Since Morse code does not overlap in form with natural languages, interference from known languages was minimized. Next, participants listened to another Morse code language composed of new words that conflicted with the first Morse code language. Interference in this second language was high due to conflict between languages and due to the presence of two colliding cues (compressed pauses between words and statistical regularities) that competed to define word boundaries. Results suggest that bilingual experience can improve word learning when interference from other languages is low, while inhibitory control ability can improve word learning when interference from other languages is high. We conclude that the ability to extract novel words from continuous speech is a skill that is affected both by linguistic factors, such as bilingual experience, and by cognitive abilities, such as inhibitory control.
language acquisition; statistical learning; bilingualism; inhibitory control; Morse code; Simon task
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.
The influence of phonological similarity on bilingual language processing was examined within and across languages in three experiments. Phonological similarity was manipulated within a language by varying neighborhood density, and across languages by varying extent of cross-linguistic overlap between native and non-native languages. In Experiment 1, speed and accuracy of bilinguals’ picture naming were susceptible to phonological neighborhood density in both the first and the second language. In Experiment 2, eye-movement patterns indicated that the time-course of language activation varied across phonological neighborhood densities and across native/non-native language status. In Experiment 3, speed and accuracy of bilingual performance in an auditory lexical decision task were influenced by degree of cross-linguistic phonological overlap. Together, the three experiments confirm that bilinguals are sensitive to phonological similarity within and across languages and suggest that this sensitivity is asymmetrical across native and non-native languages and varies along the timecourse of word processing.
Phonology; Language production; Language recognition; Bilingualism; Eye-tracking
This study examined lexical–semantic organization of bilingual children in their 2 languages and in relation to monolingual age-mates.
Twelve Mandarin–English bilingual and 12 English monolingual children generated 3 associations to each of 36 words. Responses were coded as paradigmatic (dog–cat) or syntagmatic (dog–bark).
Within the bilingual group, word association performance was comparable and correlated between 1st and 2nd languages. Bilingual and monolingual children demonstrated similar patterns of responses, but subtle group differences were also revealed. When between-group comparisons were made on English measures, there was a bilingual advantage in paradigmatic responding during the 1st elicitation and for verbs.
Results support previous studies in finding parallel development in bilinguals’ 1st- and 2nd-language lexical–semantic skills and provide preliminary evidence that bilingualism may enhance paradigmatic organization of the semantic lexicon.
bilingual; lexical–semantic organization; syntagmatic–paradigmatic shift; word association