Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Language Switching and the Effects of Orthographic Specificity and Response Repetition

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Language Switching and the Effects of Orthographic Specificity and Response Repetition

Article excerpt

In two experiments, Greek-English bilinguals alternated between performing a lexical decision task in Greek and in English. The cost to performance on switch trials interacted with response repetition, implying that a source of this "switch cost" is at the level of response mapping or initiation. Orthographic specificity also affected switch cost. Greek and English have partially overlapping alphabets, which enabled us to manipulate language specificity at the letter level, rather than only at the level of letter clusters. Language-nonspecific stimuli used only symbols common to both Greek and English, whereas language-specific stimuli contained letters unique to just one language. The switch cost was markedly reduced by such language-specific orthography, and this effect did not interact with the effect of response repetition, implying a separate, stimulus-sensitive source of switch costs. However, we argue that this second source is not within the word-recognition system, but at the level of task schemas, because the reduction of switch cost with language-specific stimuli was abolished when these stimuli were intermingled with language-nonspecific stimuli.

When bilinguals switch from using one language to another (in laboratory tasks), there is generally a transient cost to performance (Costa, Miozzo, & Caramazza, 1999; Hernandez, Dapretto, Mazziotta, & Bookheimer, 2001 ; Jackson, Swainson, Cunnington, & Jackson, 2001; Kroll, Dietz, & Green, 2000; Meuter & Allport, 1999). Such a "language switch cost" exists even when only the language of the stimulus changes and subjects respond manually so that no switch in output is required (Grainger & Beauvillain, 1987; Jackson, Swainson, Mullin, Cunnington, & Jackson, 2004; Thomas & Allport, 2000; von Studnitz & Green, 1997, 2002a). One explanation for the switch cost is that the representations for the new language are disadvantaged compared with those of the just-used language (Dijkstra & van Heuven, 1998; Thomas, 1997; van Heuven, Dijkstra, & Grainger, 1998). In other words, the cost might arise from within the word-recognition system and thus from a source specific to language switching. However, it has also been argued that the cost arises from control processes or interference external to the language system itself (e.g., Green, 1998a, 1998b). Thus, language switch costs might reflect "task switch costs," which generally arise when subjects switch between any two simple tasks (e.g., Allport, Styles, & Hsieh, 1994; Meiran, 1996; Monsell, 2003; Rogers & Monsell, 1995). In this article, we set out to test the two effects that have been the main evidence in the debate between whether language switch costs come from task control processes or from within the word-recognition system. These effects, explained below, are the interaction of switch cost with response repetition and the effect of language-specific orthography on switch cost.

Language-Specific Orthography

There is growing evidence that access to the word-recognition systems of bilinguals is not language selective (e.g., Dijkstra, Grainger, & van Heuven, 1999; Jared & Kroll, 2001; von Studnitz & Green, 2002b). That is, a word-like stimulus activates lexical possibilities in both languages even when the bilingual subject knows that only one language is currently needed. However, it is likely that depending on the current language context, the relative activation of representations in each language would differ-that use of one language facilitates subsequent word recognition in the same language in some way, perhaps by priming all lexical representations in the same language, or by activating that language's mapping of orthography to pronunciation (see Lukatela & Turvey, 1998, for the related concept of "alphabet biasing" without the ability to disable one alphabet completely). Thus the source of the language switch cost could be an exaggeration of the normal processes of competition and interference that accompany nonselective lexical activation (e. …

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