The Impact of Language Differences on Language Processing: An Example from Chinese-English Bilingualism
Doris Aaronson Steven Ferres New York University
In this chapter we compare the processing of English by Chinese-English bilinguals with that of monolingual English speakers. We have selected ChineseEnglish bilinguals (whom we often call "Chinese") for comparison to monolingual English speakers (whom we often call "Americans") for three interrelated reasons. (a) First, the Chinese and English languages differ on important linguistic dimensions, some of which question theories about linguistic universals. In contrast, most of the past bilingual research has focused on either Spanish/English or French/English speakers. Focusing on a non-Indo-European language may reveal differences that do not emerge when comparing two members of the same language family.
(b) Second, most of the past bilingual research within the framework of cognitive psychology is of a general nature, dealing with the possibility of dual semantic coding, of extra processing time for mental translation, or of performance decrements due to capacity limitations when any two languages must share attention or memory space ( Hatch, 1978; Spolsky & Cooper, 1978). Instead we focus here on language specific effects, i.e., on performance differences attributable to particular semantic and syntactic differences between Chinese and English.
(c) From an applied standpoint, the determination of specific linguistic differences that have psychological correlates has implications for understanding second language acquisition and performance of language-based cognitive tasks by bilinguals. There are probably over 2 million Chinese immigrants or immediate descendants of those immigrants now living in countries speaking IndoEuropean languages ( Cheng, 1978). Relatively little has been done to develop high quality bilingual education in those countries, or to deal with other so-