Language dominance in translation priming: evidence from balanced and unbalanced Chinese–English bilinguals

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It is well established in the masked translation priming literature that the priming effect is sensitive to language direction with noncognates—namely, the priming effect is consistently observed from first language (L1) to second language (L2), but not always from L2 to L1. Several recent reports demonstrated both L1–L2 and L2–L1 priming and attributed the restoration of L2–L1 priming to high proficiency in L2. Here, the current study tested two groups of highly proficient Chinese–English bilinguals, with one group more dominant in English and the other more balanced in both languages. The L2–L1 priming effect was only observed with the balanced bilinguals, but not the English-dominant ones. Based on these results, I argue that the language proficiency account is not sufficient to explain the priming asymmetry and that the relative bilingual balance is a more accurate account. Theoretically, the cross-language balance is determined by the representational difference between L1 and L2 at the semantic level. I discuss the results in relation to various bilingual models, in particular, the sense model and the distributional representational model (DRM), which capture the semantic representations of bilinguals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)727–743
Number of pages17
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • bilingualism
  • translation priming
  • language dominance


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