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   2011, Vol. 43 Issue (07) : 771-783     DOI:
The Activation of Non-attended Language in Language Comprehension of Chinese-English Bilinguals
WANG Rui-Ming;DENG Han-Shen;LI Jun-Jie;LI Li;FAN Meng
(1 Center for Studies of Psychological Application;
2 College of International Culture, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China)
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Abstract  Bilingual individuals manage to understand one of their languages without apparent interference from the other. How, then, do bilinguals avoid the language interference and maintain their focus on the target language? Existent studies have provided inconsistent data about the activation of two languages with explicit task paradigms. Although most prominent theories of bilingualism assume that mental representation of languages include a lexical level and a conceptual level, the notion of activation is ill-defined and it is unclear to what extent the words from the non-attended language are processed for bilinguals. Therefore, this study was designed to further investigate the activation of non-attended language in language comprehension with innovative paradigms and different tasks-the lexical decision task and the conceptual decision task.
Two hundred students majoring in English at South China Normal University participated in the study and were randomly divided into different experiments. All participants in the present experiments were Chinese natives, and for whom English was their second language. Each experiment consisted of a study block and a test block. In the study block, Chinese and English words presented one at a time randomly, and bilingual participants were instructed to make a lexical decision (Experiment 1 and 2) or a concept decision (Experiment 3 and 4) only to one language (target language) while ignoring the other language (non-attended language). Study status (studied vs. unstudied) was manipulated in the test block. The same-language repetition priming was used in Experiment 1 and 3, which non-attended language words presented in the study block were repeated in the test block. The cross-language repetition priming condition was used in Experiment 2 and 4, which non-attened language words were presented in the study block and their translation equivalents were presented in the test block. The response times and accurate rates were recorded.
In experiment 1 and 3, the response times of the words studied were significantly faster than those of the words unstudied in the test block whether the non-attended language was English (experiment1a and 3a) or Chinese (experiment 1b and 3b). But in experiment 2, we did not find any cross-language repetition priming effect with lexical decision tasks, and in experiment 4, we found cross-language repetition priming effect with conceptual decision tasks. The results revealed that even proficient Chinese-English bilinguals were asked to orient their attention to only one language in the language comprehension, the non-attened language was still automatically activated. But in low-level lexical decision tasks, the non-attended target language was just activated on lexical level but not on concept level. In high-level conceptual decision tasks, the non-attended language was not only active on lexical level but also on concept level.
Keywords bilinguals      language switching      non-target language      long repetition priming     
Corresponding Authors: WANG Rui-Ming   
Issue Date: 30 July 2011
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WANG Rui-Ming,DENG Han-Shen,LI Jun-Jie,LI Li,FAN Meng. The Activation of Non-attended Language in Language Comprehension of Chinese-English Bilinguals[J]. ,2011, 43(07): 771-783.
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