Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Cross-Language Influences: Translation Status Affects Intraword Sense Relatedness

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Cross-Language Influences: Translation Status Affects Intraword Sense Relatedness

Article excerpt

Abstract Many words have more than one meaning, and these meanings vary in their degree of relatedness. In the present experiment, we examined whether this degree of relatedness is influenced by whether or not the two meanings share a translation in a bilingual's other language. Native English speakers with Spanish as a second language (i.e., English-Spanish bilinguals) and native Spanish speakers with English as a second language (i.e., Spanish-English bilinguals) were presented with pairs of phrases instantiating different senses of ambiguous English words (e.g., dinner date-expiration date) and were asked to decide whether the two senses were related in meaning. Critically, for some pairs of phrases, a single Spanish translation encompassed both meanings of the ambiguous word (joint-translation condition; e.g., mercado in Spanish refers to both a flea market and the housing market), but for others, each sense corresponded to a different Spanish translation (split-translation condition; e.g., cita in Spanish refers to a dinner date, but fecha refers to an expiration date). The proportions of "yes" (related) responses revealed that, relative to monolingual English speakers, Spanish-English bilinguals consider joint-translation senses to be less related than split-translation senses. These findings exemplify semantic cross-language influences from a first to a second language and reveal the semantic structure of the bilingual lexicon.

Keywords Bilingualism * Semantic ambiguity * Word sense ambiguity

Words are notoriously ambiguous in meaning. A single word can refer to several slightly different referents, or even to completely different referents, in different contexts. The word beam for instance, refers to a wooden beam in the context of carpentry, but to a laser beam in the context of physics. The different senses of words may be more or less related in meaning, and may share many or no semantic features. For instance, both senses of the polysemous word beam encompass a referent with a straight line. In other cases, a word can encompass two unrelated meanings, for which it is more difficult to identify a shared set of semantic features (e.g., the homonym bark, referring to the sound a dog makes or to the outer layer of a tree). Such homonyms are typically thought to have been accidently created in the language, such that two separate lexical entries happen to share form (e.g., Klein & Murphy, 2001, 2002).

Words therefore vary in the degree of relatedness of their different nuances of meaning, which we will refer to as intraword sense relatedness. In the present experiment, we examined whether this degree of relatedness is influenced by whether or not the two meanings share a translation in a bilingual's other language. In particular, we examined whether the two senses of an ambiguous word are more (or less) related when a single word in a bilingual's other language also captures these two senses. For example, the Spanish word operación refers to both the military and the mathematical senses of the English word operation. In contrast, each sense of the English word ring is translated into a different word in Spanish; anillo corresponds to the jewelry, whereas timbre corresponds to the sound. Here, we asked whether two senses with a shared translation in Spanish (joint-translation condition) are more or less related than two senses with independent translations in Spanish {split-translation condition) for bilinguals of Spanish and English, as compared with monolingual English speakers (see Fig. 1).

This issue is important to examine for several reasons. First, such cross-language influences, and especially those from a second (L2) to a first (LI) language, highlight the dynamic nature of the bilingual lexicon and exemplify the interconnectivity between the languages of multilingual speakers (see, e.g., Degani, Prior, & Tokowicz, 2011). Second, as reviewed below, the relatedness of the meanings of ambiguous words influences how ambiguous words are processed both in and out of context. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.