Effects of Cultural Knowledge on Parallel Language Activation in German-English Bilinguals


Bilinguals have been shown to activate their two languages simultaneously during spoken word recognition (e.g., Blumenfeld & Marian, 2007). We investigated whether top-down conceptual processing influences parallel language activation using the visual world eye-tracking paradigm. Cultural knowledge was used to manipulate semantic activation in L1 during L2 word processing. Critical trials contained target items that were culturally meaningful to individuals who grew up in Germany, alongside German competitor items that had word-initial phonological overlap with the target word. We hypothesized that German-English bilinguals would fixate the German competitor items more in the culturally salient condition than in the culturally neutral condition. Preliminary data from seven German-English bilinguals and 10 English monolinguals revealed a competitor effect in the culturally salient condition only for bilinguals (p=.03), with no effect in the culturally-neural condition (p>.1). Results suggest that activation of cultural knowledge in bilinguals exerts a conceptual top-down influence on parallel language activation.

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