Lexico-semantic processing in adult monolingual Russian and bilingual Russian (L1) - English (L2) Speakers

PhD thesis

Volkovyskaya, E. 2017. Lexico-semantic processing in adult monolingual Russian and bilingual Russian (L1) - English (L2) Speakers. PhD thesis Middlesex University Science and Technology
TypePhD thesis
TitleLexico-semantic processing in adult monolingual Russian and bilingual Russian (L1) - English (L2) Speakers
AuthorsVolkovyskaya, E.

The aim of the research was to examine lexico-semantic processes in monolingual Russian and bilingual Russian (L1) – English (L2) speaking adults. This has been achieved via two main approaches: The classic semantic priming paradigm in naming tasks and free recall tasks which take into account the growing body of research on the Age of Acquisition (AoA) effects in semantic processing and organisation. The Russian orthography has a unique writing system which is a combination of Roman and Cyrillic alphabets. Semantic priming was of special interest because it provides an opportunity to manipulate the semantic associations between words and the orthographic characteristics of the Russian orthography in order to address two key questions that dominate bilingual research: i) how the two languages of a bilingual are organised or stored, that is, whether each language is stored in one or more locations in bilingual memory and ii) how the two languages are processed, i.e. what mental capacities are required to process each language. Moreover, a review of the literature showed that little work has been reported in Russian, therefore, there are currently no theoretical frameworks that explain Russian (L1) monolingual or Russian (L1)-English (L2) bilingual storage or processing.
The starting point was to establish the presence of semantic priming in Russian monolingual speakers. The findings of a significant priming effect in Experiment 1 were in line with the predictions and add to the large body of literature on priming. Experiments 2 and 3 examined within-language priming (L1-L1 and L2-L2 respectively) in Russian (L1)-English (L2) bilinguals and the results indicated that although the magnitude of the priming effect was similar, the Reaction Times (RTs) were nevertheless significantly faster under the L1-L1 condition. The evidence was taken as an indication that the two languages were activated automatically via semantic activation therefore contributing positively or facilitating the semantic priming effect. Between-language priming was employed in Experiments 4 and 5 which again showed a similar magnitude for priming in L1 to L2 and L2 to L1 with significantly slower RTs in the latter.
Exploiting the unique properties of the Russian orthography, Experiments 6-9 manipulated Russian and English orthographies in creating orthographically unfamiliar primes and targets. One question which has preoccupied bilingual research is a) whether and b) the extent to which the interconnections between L1 and L2 are reliant upon the orthographic features of the bilinguals’ orthographies. The main objective is to examine the extent to which between-language interference occurs not just at the semantic but also at the lexical-orthographical level of language processing. The collective results for Experiments 6-9 show a robust priming effect across conditions together with a main effect for target orthography but not for target language. However, the magnitude of semantic priming varied greatly between the experiments. In conclusion, it is suggested that degree of semantic representation between L1 and L2 appears to be dependent on whether words’ orthographic representation was congruent or incongruent (novel) with the language. These findings will be further discussed within the visual word recognition literature.
Experiments 10 and 11 were conducted to examine the role of Age of Acquisition (AoA) in monolingual Russian and bilingual Russian (L1)-English (L2) speakers in a free recall task as AoA is assumed to reveal semantic organisation, memory and language processing. As there are no previous reports of AoA effects in Russian, Experiment 10 was undertaken with monolinguals in order to establish the existence of AoA effect in a free recall task of words and pictures. A significant AoA effect confirmed the universal nature of AoA. Bilingual Russian (L1)-English (L2) speakers were employed in Experiment 11 using the same methodology as in Experiment 10, i.e., free recall words or pictures in either L1 or L2. Experiments 10-11 also examined list effects by using pure versus mixed blocks to present stimuli to determine whether participants employ different recall strategies depending whether they see pure or mixed lists. As predicted, the size of the AoA effect was smaller for L2 than L1 as almost all the participants reported learning English at the age of 8-9. For words, the results showed an effect between L1 and L2 with better recall in L1 but not for AoA and a significant interaction between language and AoA. For pictures there was also a main effect for L1/L2 as well as for AoA. One other finding was that type of list did not have an impact on recall. Overall, these findings are in line with the predictions that because L2 words enter into the bilinguals’ lexicon later than L1, one cannot expect the same magnitude of AoA effect under these circumstances. Evidence from picture recall show a robust AoA effect since picture processing is assumed to be language independent.
To summarise, the main aim of the research programme was to examine two key issues in related to bilingual language processing and memory, that is, how the two languages of a bilingual is stored and how it is processed. Whilst the overall findings from the semantic priming experiments indicate to a shared conceptual store for L1 and L2, the results from the free recall experiments demonstrate that AoA is fundamental in the organisation of a bilinguals’ memory for pictures and words in both L1 and L2.

Department nameScience and Technology
Institution nameMiddlesex University
Publication dates
Print17 Nov 2017
Publication process dates
Deposited17 Nov 2017
Accepted16 Nov 2017
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
Accepted author manuscript
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