Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Language Context Guides Memory Content

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Language Context Guides Memory Content

Article excerpt

The relationship between language and memory was examined by testing accessibility of general knowledge across two languages in bilinguals. Mandarin-English speakers were asked questions such as "name a statue of someone standing with a raised arm while looking into the distance" and were more likely to name the Statue of Liberty when asked in English and the Statue of Mao when asked in Mandarin. Multivalent information (i.e., multiple possible answers to a question) and bivalent information (i.e., two possible answers to a question) were more susceptible to language dependency than univalent information (i.e., one possible answer to a question). Accuracy of retrieval showed language-dependent memory effects in both languages, while speed of retrieval showed language-dependent memory effects only in bilinguals' more proficient language. These findings suggest that memory and language are tightly connected and that linguistic context at the time of learning may become integrated into memory content.

Language is known to guide conceptual development (Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1997; Waxman & Braun, 2005) and to provide a framework for mental representations (Gentner & Goldin-Meadow, 2003; Gumperz & Levinson 1996). Here we examine the relationship between language and memory by testing accessibility of general knowledge across two languages in bilinguals. Because bilinguals encode some of their memories while using one language and other memories while using the other language, bilingualism can, in essence, serve as a real-world laboratory for testing hypotheses about the interaction between memory and language.

Using a bilingual framework, we have recently proposed (Marian & Neisser, 2000) that language context leads to encoding specificity effects (Davies & Thomson, 1988; Tulving & Thomson, 1973) and that linguistic factors at the time of recall may influence memory accessibility. The link between language and memory has emerged most consistently in autobiographical memory (Koven, 2001; Larsen, Schrauf, Fromholt, & Rubin, 2002). For instance, the accessibility of autobiographical memories was improved when the language used at the time of remembering corresponded to the language in which memories were initially formed (Marian & Neisser, 2000; Matsumoto & Stanny, 2006; Schrauf & Rubin, 1998). Language-dependent effects in autobiographical retrieval have been explained by the influence of a general linguistic milieu, as well as by language-specific wordprompt cuing (e.g., Marian & Neisser, 2000; Matsumoto & Stanny, 2006).

Recent findings suggest that language-dependency effects are found not only in episodic memory, but also in self-construal (e.g., Ross, Xun, & Wilson, 2002) and in academic learning (e.g., Marian & Fausey, 2006). For example, Ross et al. (2002) found that bilinguals differed in number of collective self-statements, self-esteem ratings, and cultural views when responding in their two languages. For academic learning, Marian and Fausey (2006) found that bilinguals were better at remembering information (e.g., about history, chemistry, etc.) when tested in the same language in which the material was originally learned (however, language proficiency modulated the effects). Moreover, other studies focused on performance in laboratory tasks such as learning of word lists. Retrieval of words encoded in mixed-language lists was found to cluster by language (e.g., Dalrymple-Alford & Aamiry, 1969), and words that were learned and tested in the same language showed a retrieval advantage compared to words that were learned and tested in different languages (Durgunoglu & Roediger, 1987). However, it has been argued that studies of word lists and of memory for academic material, while informative in terms of memory organization, may not be indicative of memory performance in real-world environments (Koriat & Goldsmith, 1996; Neisser, 1978). …

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