Lexical and syntactic representations in closely related languages: Evidence from Cantonese–Mandarin bilinguals
Bilinguals appear to have shared syntactic representations for similar constructions between languages but retain distinct representations for noncognate translation-equivalents (Schoonbaert, Hartsuiker, & Pickering, 2007). We inquire whether bilinguals have more integrated representations of cognate translation-equivalents. To investigate this, we report two structural priming experiments in which participants heard dative sentences in Mandarin or Cantonese and described pictures using Mandarin (Experiment 1) or Cantonese (Experiment 2). We found that cognate verbs between the prime and the target led to a smaller boost than same verbs. This difference in priming could not be attributed to more phonological overlap between same verbs (i.e., identical) than between cognate verbs (i.e., similar but not identical). These results suggest that cognate verbs have separate rather than shared lemma representations across languages, even though their associated syntactic information appears to be collectively represented. Furthermore, we found an advantage for within-language priming over between-language priming. We interpreted this advantage as the result of a language node passing activation to all the lemmas linked to it. Implications for bilingual lexical and syntactic representation and processing are discussed.
from the Journal of Memory and Language