Cross-language lexical processes and inhibitory control
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Many recent studies demonstrate that both languages are active when bilinguals and second language (L2) learners are reading, listening, or speaking one language only. The parallel activity of the two languages has been hypothesized to create competition that must be resolved. Models of bilingual lexical access have proposed an inhibitory control mechanism to effectively limit attention to the intended language (e.g., Green, 1998). Critically, other recent research suggests that a lifetime of experience as a bilingual negotiating the competition across the two languages confers a set of benefits to cognitive control processes more generally (e.g., Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004). However, few studies have examined the consequences of individual differences in inhibitory control for performance on language processing tasks. The goal of the present work was to determine whether there is a relation between enhanced executive function and performance for L2 learners and bilinguals on lexical comprehension and production tasks. Data were analyzed from two studies involving a range of language processing tasks, a working memory measure, and also the Simon task, a nonlinguistic measure of inhibitory control. The results demonstrate that greater working memory resources and enhanced inhibitory control are related to a reduction in cross-language activation in a sentence context word naming task and a picture naming task, respectively. Other factors that may be related to inhibitory control are identified. The implications of these results for models of bilingual lexical comprehension and production are discussed.
Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University; 2: ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice, Bangor University