Master of Arts (MA)


Foreign Languages and Literatures

Document Type



ABSTRACT The Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM) posits an organization of the bilingual lexicon based on conceptual and lexical links between first (L1) and second (L2) language words (Kroll & Stewart, 1994). This model predicts that increasing L2 proficiency would lead to the strengthening of conceptual links between L1 and L2 words (Cheng & Leung, 1989; Dong et al., 2005, Francis et al., 2014). The question arises, however, whether proficiency is the only predictor of conceptual link strength. Some studies suggest that L2 word processing may be different in heritage speakers and adult L2 learners who have similar L2 proficiency, but differ in age and context of initial exposure to L2 (Cheng & Leung, 1989; Montrul & Foote, 2014). The purpose of this study was to examine word processing in three types of bilinguals: high proficiency heritage speakers, advanced L2 learners and novice L2 learners. We expected to find differences between heritage speakers and adult L2 learners. Thirty English-Spanish bilinguals (ten participants per group) were recruited based on a thorough assessment of Spanish language proficiency. All of them performed a SpanishEnglish word translation task and a picture naming task. For both tasks, accuracy and reaction time (RTs) in milliseconds from the onset of stimulus to the moment when the articulation of a response began were measured. Analyses of variance confirmed that the groups were significantly different in all four measures. Post-hoc Tukey tests showed that the novice L2 learners group differed from both the high proficiency groups. In sum, the results showed that the novice L2 learners had significantly lower accuracy and higher RTs in both tasks than the two high proficiency groups. This is consistent with previous studies, suggesting that bilingual performance in lexical retrieval tasks that require conceptual access is affected by L2 proficiency level (Cheng & Leung, 1989; Dong et al., 2005, Francis et al., 2014). However, no differences were found between the high proficiency heritage speakers and advanced L2 learners in any task performance. This suggests that proficiency has a greater effect on word processing than combined age and context of acquisition on lexical access.



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Committee Chair

Dorado, Dorian