Eye Tracking Investigation Into Semantic Convergence In Fully Fluent Spanish-English Bilingual Adults

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Aims and Objectives: This article examines semantic convergence of bilinguals’ two languages in the case of words that overlap semantically but are not fully isomorphic in meaning and application. To what extent do the type of bilingual, type of category, and relative semantic width across the languages matter?

Design: The primary method involves eye tracking while participants chose pictures corresponding to an English word heard. The data examine potential differences in simultaneous Spanish–English bilinguals’, early Spanish L1–English L2 bilinguals’, and monolingual English speakers’ durations and numbers of fixations on potential candidates for referents.

Data and Analysis: Thirty-eight participants were administered the task in relation to 48 English words from three types of words (classical, radial, and homophonic), half with wider semantic extension in English, half with wider semantic extension in Spanish. Durations and numbers of fixations were analyzed with ANOVAs with participant group, word type, and semantic width treated as variables.

Findings/Conclusions: Data revealed minimal influences from Spanish on English with homophonic words, but for classical categories, and to some extent radial categories, bilinguals showed influence from Spanish on English words: participants considered referents that would be relevant for Spanish but not English.

Originality: Eye tracking provides a window into the online processing of words and their referents, and thus provides more subtle clues to bilinguals’ processing of these categories relative to monolinguals’. The results support a special status relative to semantic convergence for words whose referents correspond to categories whose members lie close together in the conceptual space.

Significance/Implications: For us to best account for semantic convergence in bilingual speakers, these data indicate that the type of category and the category structure in the conceptual space matter, the relative widths of the categories in bilinguals’ two languages matter, the task demands matter, and the type of bilingual matters.

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International Journal of Bilingualism

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