Differences in word recognition between early bilinguals and monolinguals: Behavioral and ERP evidence

Minna Lehtonen, Annika Hultén, A Rodriguez-Fornells, T Cunillera, J Tuomainen, Matti Laine

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    25 Citations (Scopus)


    We investigated the behavioral and brain responses (ERPs) of bilingual word recognition to three fundamental psycholinguistic factors, frequency, morphology, and lexicality, in early bilinguals vs. monolinguals. Earlier behavioral studies have reported larger frequency effects in bilinguals' nondominant vs. dominant language and in some studies also when compared to corresponding monolinguals. In ERPs, language processing differences between bilinguals vs. monolinguals have typically been found in the N400 component. In the present study, highly proficient Finnish-Swedish bilinguals who had acquired both languages during childhood were compared to Finnish monolinguals during a visual lexical decision task and simultaneous ERP recordings. Behaviorally, we found that the response latencies were overall longer in bilinguals than monolinguals, and that the effects for all three factors, frequency, morphology, and lexicality were also larger in bilinguals even though they had acquired both languages early and were highly proficient in them. In line with this, the N400 effects induced by frequency, morphology, and lexicality were larger for bilinguals than monolinguals. Furthermore, the ERP results also suggest that while most inflected Finnish words are decomposed into stem and suffix, only monolinguals have encountered high frequency inflected word forms often enough to develop full-form representations for them. Larger behavioral and neural effects in bilinguals in these factors likely reflect lower amount of exposure to words compared to monolinguals, as the language input of bilinguals is divided between two languages. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageUndefined/Unknown
    Pages (from-to)1362–1371
    Number of pages10
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 2012
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • Bilingualism
    • ERPs
    • Language exposure
    • Morphology
    • Word frequency

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