Contribution of semantic context to bilingual processing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aims: This paper seeks to determine the degree to which bilinguals and monolinguals use the semantic information available to them to activate semantically related lexical associates and facilitate processing. Design: We conduct a visual word masked priming task with 300 pairs of words that differed in forward strength of association in English-dominant early-acquiring and late bilinguals and monolinguals. We measured the reaction time for participants who completed a semantic judgment. Data and Analysis: Reaction times from 34 college-aged bilinguals and 28 monolinguals were analyzed with a series of analyses of variance (ANOVAs). The coefficient of variation (CV), a measure of efficiency, was calculated and used to compare speaker groups. Conclusions: Results indicated bilinguals were generally slower than monolinguals and did not display a benefit of additional semantic context on reaction time speed. The increase of semantic information in highly associated word pairs compared to unassociated word pairs did not increase reaction time in bilinguals to the same degree as it did in monolinguals. Comparing CV values indicate that the speaker groups were processing semantic information with approximately equal efficiency, although both groups were processing at different speeds. Originality: This study expands on previous research exploring the effect of semantic relations across three word strengths conditions and using visual pairs in a masked priming paradigm using predominantly English-dominant bilinguals. Significance: The findings indicate that even early-acquiring bilinguals may not be using meaning-related information to activate semantic associates in the same way as monolinguals. Such differences with word-level processing and activation may contribute to bilinguals’ differences and delays in sentence processing tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-78
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Bilingualism
  • lexical processing
  • masked priming
  • semantics


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