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Poster C56, Friday, August 17, 10:30 am – 12:15 pm, Room 2000AB

Individual Differences in Executive Function and L2 Age of Acquisition Modulate Bilingual Homograph Processing

Pauline Palma1, Veronica Whitford2, Debra Titone1;1McGill University, 2University of Texas at El Paso

Numerous psycholinguistic studies have examined lexically ambiguous words, such as homographs (e.g., chest = ‘torso’ or ‘furniture’ in English). The Re-Ordered Access Model (Duffy et al., 1988) proposes that sentential context influences meaning selection by re-ordering access of dominant and subordinate (infrequent) meanings. In particular, biasing contexts should delay access of subordinate meanings. However, it is unclear whether this model extends to bilinguals, for whom cross-language activation might also re-order access of dominant and subordinate meanings of within-language homographs (see Schwartz et al., 2008). Moreover, it is unclear whether individual differences in language background and executive function also play a role, given prior monolingual work demonstrating fronto-cortical regions involvement in ambiguity resolution (e.g., Mason & Just, 2007). Here, we conducted an eye-movement reading study that investigated whether individual differences in L2 age of acquisition (AoA) and executive function (assessed by a non-linguistic Simon task) modulate how French-English (n = 47) and English-French (n = 40) bilinguals process homographs embedded in different sentential contexts. The homographs were either uniquely-English (e.g., chest) or had a subordinate meaning that was also an English-French cognate (e.g. cabinet: dominant meaning = ‘kitchen cabinet’; subordinate meaning = ‘governmental body’, which overlaps with French). The sentences either biased the dominant meaning, subordinate meaning, or did not bias either meaning (e.g., George glared at the [kitchen] cabinet, and decided to hire another worker to fix the broken shelf; George glared at the [republican] cabinet, and convinced them to overturn the illegal fiscal policy). Using linear mixed-effects models, we found that French-English bilinguals reading in their L2 (English) exhibited less slowing when processing cognate-homographs embedded in sentences that biased the subordinate meaning. In contrast, English-French bilinguals reading in their L1 (English) exhibited the same slowing, regardless of cognate status. Moreover, for French-English bilinguals, greater executive function facilitated the processing of uniquely-English homographs, but not of cognate-homographs. L2 AoA, however, did not play a role. For English-French bilinguals, individual differences in executive function did not play a role; however, earlier L2 AoA facilitated cognate-homograph processing. Taken together, we found evidence that the subordinate L1 meanings of within-language homographs are co-activated during L2 reading, and that both individual differences in language background and executive function modulate bilingual homograph processing.

Topic Area: Multilingualism