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Lexical interactions in non-native speech comprehension: Evidence from electro-encephalography, eye-tracking, and functional magnetic resonance imaging


In his PhD research, Ian FitzPatrick investigated instances in which the bilingual person’s languages come into conflict - specifically, when a bilingual is challenged to arrive at a coherent interpretation of a spoken utterance in the presence of conflicting information between his languages. Results revealed that between-language interactions are not inevitable by-products of between-language overlap. Rather, they only occur when the bilingual has sufficient processing resources available or in the face of a great deal of between-language overlap. Furthermore, these interactions are likely to diminish as the bilingual becomes more proficient in his second language. Even when we consider the most extreme case of between-language overlap, namely words that sound very similar between languages, the bilingual’s speech comprehension system gives priority to the language at hand, thereby minimising any between-language ambiguity. Finally, it seems that words in the bilingual lexicon are linked to abstract language membership features, which allow the bilingual to distinguish between words of different languages. Overall, the bilingual listener can rest assured in the knowledge that his language comprehension system is well equipped to deal with spurious between-language overlap. The results of this research may, however, constitute less good news for those bilinguals who frequently switch between languages, as it seems the switches may incur a processing cost for their interlocutors.

MPI Series in Psycholinguistics