Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Consequences of Language Proficiency and Difficulty of Lexical Access for Translation Performance and Priming

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

The Consequences of Language Proficiency and Difficulty of Lexical Access for Translation Performance and Priming

Article excerpt

Published online: 12 June 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract Repetition priming was used to assess how proficiency and the ease or difficulty of lexical access influence bilingual translation. Two experiments, conducted at different universities with different Spanish-English bilingual populations and materials, showed repetition priming in word translation for same-direction and different-direction repetitions. Experiment 1, conducted in an English-dominant environment, revealed an effect of translation direction but not of direction match, whereas Experiment 2, conducted in a more balanced bilingual environment, showed an effect of direction match but not of translation direction. A combined analysis on the items common to both studies revealed that bilingual proficiency was negatively associated with response time (RT), priming, and the degreeoftranslationasymmetryinRTsandpriming.Anitem analysis showed that item difficulty was positively associated with RTs, priming, and the benefit of same-direction over different-direction repetition. Thus, although both participant accuracy and item accuracy are indices of learning, they have distinct effects on translation RTs and on the learning that is captured by the repetition-priming paradigm.

Keywords Repetition priming . Bilingualism . Lexical processing

As language learners develop proficiency through experience, words are accessed with increasing speed and accuracy. According to some models, such increased processing efficiency comes from episodic learning events in which exposure leads to stronger representations (e.g., Reichle & Perfetti, 2003). Thus, with each exposure to a word, its association with its concept is strengthened. As a consequence, earlieracquired and more-frequent words accrue more experience and become more strongly associated with their concepts, and therefore less difficult to access. Similarly, a moreexperienced and more-proficient speaker will have stronger word-concept associations than will a less-proficient speaker for any given set of words, and will access them more easily (e.g., Kroll & Stewart, 1994). Thus, both the proficiency of a language user and the difficulty involved in accessing a word are largely products of experience. In the present study, we investigated whether language proficiency and item difficulty influence translation performance differently. In particular, we investigated these learning phenomena using a repetitionpriming paradigm, in which the effects of experimental exposures can be studied by measuring increments in learning from exposure n to exposure n + 1, where n varies across participants and words. We report two bilingual word translation experiments that allowed for direct comparisons of the effects of participant proficiency and item difficulty and how they moderate the effect of additional exposures.

Processes in bilingual word translation

In proficient bilinguals, translation in both directions (from the first language to the second and the reverse) is generally thought to be concept-mediated (e.g., Brysbaert & Duyck, 2010; de Groot, Dannenburg, & van Hell, 1994; de Groot & Poot, 1997; Duyck & Brysbaert, 2004; Francis, Augustini, & Sáenz, 2003; Francis & Gallard, 2005; La Heij, Hooglander, Kerling, & van der Velden, 1996; but see Kroll, van Hell, Tokowicz, & Green, 2010, for a discussion of the interpretation of translation direction). In concept-mediated translation, the target word is comprehended, and on the basis of its meaning or concept, a corresponding word in the response language is produced (Potter, So, von Eckardt, & Feldman, 1984). This method of translation entails the assumption that pairs of translation equivalents access common conceptual representations (see Francis, 1999, 2005, for reviews of this evidence; but seeTokowicz&Kroll,2007; Tokowicz, Kroll, de Groot, & van Hell, 2002, for evidence that these representations may not overlap completely). …

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