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Language activation and control in the unimodal and bimodal bilingual lexicon

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - BiBiCrossLang (Language activation and control in the unimodal and bimodal bilingual lexicon)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2017-06-30

Bilinguals activate words from both languages when listening, reading or speaking in one language. Such cross-language activation is considered a hallmark of bilingual language processing. To obtain insight into the impact of biological and linguistic constraints on bilingual processing, the current project compared cross-language activation in bilinguals of two spoken languages (unimodal bilinguals) and deaf and hearing bilinguals of a spoken language and a sign language (bimodal bilinguals). Specifically, we investigated how cross-language activation is shaped by articulatory and perceptual competition between the two languages, and whether deaf readers show similar cross-language activation patterns as hearing signers (and bilinguals of spoken languages). This project contributes critical insight into bilingual processing of deaf language users. Although bilingual schooling for hearing children is nowadays widely accepted in many societies, the benefits of bilingual education programs that teach sign language as well as spoken/written language to deaf children are widely debated and these programs face strong pressure from rapid advances in audiological technology, such as cochlear implants.
We conducted a series of cross-language activation experiments in language production and comprehension with deaf and hearing bilinguals of Spanish Sign Language (LSE) and Spanish, and hearing bilinguals of Basque and Spanish. For example, LSE-Spanish bilinguals had to name pictures in LSE while ignoring a superimposed Spanish word that, when translated into LSE, resembled the LSE sign they had to produce (see Figure 1) to see if this facilitated or slowed down their sign production. In another experiment, we presented a printed Spanish word on the screen together with four objects. The LSE sign for one of the objects on the screen resembled the LSE sign for the Spanish word (see Figure 2) and we measured how often LSE-Spanish bilinguals looked at this object compared to other objects. In another eye-tracking experiment, we presented hearing LSE-Spanish bilinguals with a video of someone speaking and signing at the same time together with the four objects on the screen to investigate how bimodal bilinguals integrate information in the two languages when perceived together (see Figure 3).
The results from this project show that lexical activation flows freely between spoken and signed languages in language production, presumably because the two languages are not competing for the same articulators. Furthermore, the simultaneous perception of words and signs benefits word recognition by hearing bimodal bilinguals. This latter finding challenges the idea that the simultaneous exposure to speech and (natural) lexical signs for deaf children should be avoided. Finally, we show several striking similarities between cross-language activation in deaf and hearing bimodal bilinguals, demonstrating that signing deaf readers are bilingual language users, which needs to be considered when studying their language acquisition and processing.
Study 1: Phonological priming through translation in lexical production by deaf and hearing LSE-Spanish bilinguals and hearing Basque-Spanish bilinguals (84 participants)
Method: Picture naming in LSE/Basque with superimposed Spanish distractor words
Results: 1) phonological facilitation for priming through translation in the target language for deaf and hearing LSE-Spanish bilinguals, but not Basque-Spanish bilinguals, and 2) phonological facilitation for priming through translation in the non-target language in all bilingual groups.
Conclusions: Direct cross-language phonological connections between two spoken languages constrain translation-mediated priming in unimodal bilinguals of spoken languages, but not deaf or hearing bimodal bilinguals.
Dissemination: 11th International Symposium on Bilingualism

Study 2: Validation of a novel visual world eye-tracking paradigm with printed target words (40 participants)
Method: Comparison of frequency effects and orthographic/phonological and semantic competition effects with printed vs. auditory target words
Results: Competition effects occurred earlier in time for printed target words than auditory words and frequency effects were less pronounced.
Conclusions: Although modality differences in incremental processing of linguistic information impacts the time course of lexical activation and competition effects, the novel adaptation can be used to investigate the time course of lexical access in word reading.
Dissemination: 57th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society

Study 3: Time course of within-language and between-language lexical competition in deaf LSE-Spanish bilinguals and hearing Basque-Spanish bilinguals (51 participants)
Method: Comparison of orthographic/phonological competition in Spanish and phonological competition through translation in Basque/LSE in the visual world paradigm.
Main results: In contrast to Basque-Spanish bilinguals, no clear evidence for within/between-language competition in deaf LSE-Spanish bilinguals. Both forms of competition showed a very similar time course in Basque-Spanish bilinguals.
Main conclusions: There are striking similarities in lexical activation within and between languages in unimodal bilinguals, even when the words in the two languages do not have any direct phonological overlap and activation in the other language is mediated through translation. Interindividual variation in reading proficiency may have contributed to the observed null effects for deaf readers with this paradigm.
Dissemination: 57th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomics Society

Study 4: Processing of code-blends by hearing LSE-Spanish bilinguals and Spanish non-signers (47 participants)
Method: Visual world eye-tracking study with audiovisual and code-blend stimuli (simultaneously produced words and signs)
Main results: Preliminary analyses suggest strong evidence for code-blend facilitation in hearing LSE-bilinguals, but not Spanish non-signing controls, in reaction times as well as fixation slopes. These benefits appear to be particularly pronounced for Spanish words from high-density phonological neighborhoods.
Main conclusions: Hearing bimodal bilinguals use early phonological cues across the two language modalities to constrain lexical access.
By directly comparing bilinguals of languages in the same or different language modalities (bilinguals of spoken languages vs. bilinguals of spoken and sign languages), this project has provided a unique perspective on the impact of biological and linguistic constraints on bilingual processing. Foremost, the project has uncovered several striking similarities in cross-language activation patterns between deaf and hearing bilinguals of a spoken language and a sign language. Non-selective language activation in bilinguals of spoken languages has been considered as a hallmark of bilingual processing. By providing empirical evidence for similarities in hallmark aspects of bilingual processing between unimodal and bimodal bilinguals, regardless of their hearing status, the results from the current project argue for a bilingual perspective on language acquisition and processing by deaf readers. This is particularly relevant given that the benefits of bilingual education programs for deaf children are currently widely debated in the context of changing opportunities for many deaf children to acquire spoken language.