ISB 2019 presentation on bilingual inhibitory control

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Last week I was in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to attend the International Symposium on Bilingualism and present some of the research that I have been conducting at UC Riverside with one of my fabulous undergraduate students, Paulina Vasquez-Rocha. The conference was a wonderful place to meet more bilingualism researchers and catch up with old friends.

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In this study, we explored whether bilinguals exhibit proactive or reactive control of the dominant language when naming a block of pictures in the non-dominant language. We found evidence for proactive control, meaning that bilinguals inhibited the language as a whole rather than specific (interfering) lexical items. The full abstract is below.


When bilinguals plan speech in one of their two languages, the other language is active and potentially competing for production. Bilinguals may inhibit the dominant language (L1) to produce words in the non-dominant language (L2) (Misra et al., 2012). In this experiment we asked whether bilinguals inhibit specific words that might interfere in speaking L2 (local inhibition) or whether they inhibit the L1 lexicon as a whole (global inhibition). Two groups of Spanish-English bilinguals completed a picture naming task in which they first named pictures in separate blocks in L1, then L2, then L1. One group named the same pictures across all the blocks. The other group named novel pictures in the L2. If the L1 is inhibited globally, we expect to see the same patterns for both groups. However, if specific items are suppressed, repetition priming for those who named novel pictures in the L2 is expected. In a final block, they named pictures in both languages depending on a cue. In mixed blocks, switching into the L1 is more costly than switching into the L2 (Meuter & Allport, 1999). However, it is unclear from previous research how that inhibition is affected by prior naming. Data from 59 participants suggest that L1 suppression is global. L1 naming was similarly affected by repeated and novel items. Naming in the mixed-language block was slower in English; however, Spanish naming was faster in the mixed block than in the single-language block for repeated pictures. This pattern suggests that naming the same pictures in both languages led to a greater L2 repetition advantage for the language-mixing condition, but no advantage for the L1. Thus, the scope of L1 inhibition is not limited to the specific items retrieved. Instead, bilinguals inhibit the L1 lexicon as a whole when planning L2 speech.



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