Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Differences in Semantic and Translation Priming across Languages: The Role of Language Direction and Language Dominance

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Differences in Semantic and Translation Priming across Languages: The Role of Language Direction and Language Dominance

Article excerpt

In the present study, we examined bilingual memory organization, using the priming paradigm. Many of the previous studies in which this experimental technique has been used in the bilingual domain appear to have had several differences in methodology that have caused there to be a lot of variation in the data reported. The aim of the present work was to create an experimental situation that was well constrained so that automatic processes could be observed. In Experiment 1, Spanish-English bilinguals participated in an unmasked semantic- and translation-priming study in which a lexical decision task was used. The results revealed significant translation-priming effects in both language directions and, unexpectedly, significant semantic priming in the L2-L1 direction only. In Experiment 2, we examined semantic- and translation-priming effects with a forward mask design. The results indicated that significant priming was obtained only for translation word pairs in both language directions. These results are discussed with regard to current models of bilingual memory representation.

Over the past couple of decades, much of the research conducted in the bilingual domain has been concerned with the organization of a bilingual's two languages. For this reason, the primary aim of this empirical work has been to determine whether each language is represented in a specific, separate language store or whether both languages share a common memory store. Initial research in which bilingual memory representation has been explored has described a bilingual's two languages as being part of either a segregated (Kolers, 1963; Scarborough, Gerard, & Cortese, 1984) or an integrated (de Groot & Ñas, 1991; Kirsner, Smith, Lockhart, King, & Jain, 1984; Meyer & Ruddy, 1974) memory structure. Further evolution of these ideas has led to the proposal that bilinguals have a conceptual store that is shared by both languages, although a separate lexical store is maintained for each language (Kroll & Stewart, 1994; Potter, So, Von Eckardt, & Feldman, 1984). In addition, research showing that participants could translate words more quickly from the second language (L2) to the first language (L1) than from the L1 to the L2 (Kroll & Stewart, 1990) has suggested that links between a bilingual's words and concepts may be asymmetrical (i.e., some links between the two lexicons or conceptual store are stronger or weaker than others) and that differences in proficiency across languages could be the cause of directional differences when the bilingual is translating across them.

The Revised Hierarchical Model of Bilingual Memory Representation

Cumulative support for several of these ideas led to the formulation of the revised hierarchical model proposed by Kroll and Stewart (1994). This model describes the asymmetrical links that appear to be present in bilingual language representation, as well as accounting for the differences in translation direction (see Figure 1).

The L1 is seen as being larger than the L2 because it is assumed that bilinguals will have a larger vocabulary in their native language than in their second language. The link between the L1 and concepts appears to be bidirectional and very strong. As a person acquires an L2, especially if it occurs later in life, L2 words will be integrated into memory by developing a pathway that is attached to the lexicon of the L1 . Individuals also often translate from L1 into L2 as they acquire a new language. Finally, the connection between the L2 and concepts is illustrated as being weak. However, it has been suggested that this link increases in strength as bilinguals become more proficient or fluent hi their L2 (Kroll & Stewart, 1994).

One advantage of this model is that it accounts for several findings that have been reported in bilingual studies, such as faster translation in the L2-L1 direction, category interference that occurs only during L1-L2 translation (Kroll & Stewart, 1994), and larger priming effects in the L1-L2 direction than in the L2-L1 direction (e. …

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