Do you hear ‘feather’ when listening to ‘rain’? Lexical tone activation during unconscious translation: evidence from Mandarin-English bilinguals

Xin Wang*, Juan Wang, Jeffrey G. Malins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although lexical tone is a highly prevalent phonetic cue in human languages, its role in bilingual spoken word recognition is not well understood. The present study investigates whether and how adult bilinguals, who use pitch contours to disambiguate lexical items in one language but not the other, access a tonal L1 when exclusively processing a non-tonal L2. Using the visual world paradigm, we show that Mandarin-English listeners automatically activated Mandarin translation equivalents of English target words such as ‘rain’ (Mandarin ‘yu3’), and consequently were distracted by competitors whose segments and tones overlapped with the translations of English target words (‘feather’, also ‘yu3’ in Mandarin). Importantly, listeners were not distracted by competitors that overlapped with the translations of target words in all segments but not tone (‘fish’; Mandarin ‘yu2’), nor were they distracted by competitors that overlapped with the translations of target words in rime and tone (‘wheat’, Mandarin ‘gu3’). These novel results demonstrate implicit access to L1 lexical representations through automatic/unconscious translation, as a result of cross-language top-down and/or lateral influence, and highlight the critical role of lexical tone activation in bilingual lexical access.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-24
Number of pages10
JournalCognition
Volume169
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • unconscious translation
  • lexical tone
  • bilingualism
  • spoken word recognition
  • visual world paradigm
  • bilingual lexical access

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