What distracting information tells us about bilingual speech planning: Evidence for asymmetries in bilingual translation

Open Access
McClain, Rhonda
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
November 17, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Judith Fran Kroll, Thesis Advisor
  • translation
  • speech production
  • bilingualism
  • Revised Hierarchical Model
Previous research on bilingual speech production has exploited the presence of distractor stimuli to determine whether the two languages are activated. The primary question in this line of research is whether words that are not intended for production (“unintended words”) become activated and compete for selection with the target word to be spoken. A number of studies have shown the phonology of the distractor is available, suggesting that unintended words compete with intended words for production. However, there are fewer studies demonstrating that the semantic properties of the distractors are available. As it stands, the evidence on the effects of semantic and phonological distractors on speech production presents an empirical paradox. According to most models of speech production, it is impossible to activate the phonology of alternative words without activating their semantics first. The primary goal of the present study was to determine whether phonology and semantics of unintended words are available in the language not to be spoken when bilinguals plan to speak a single word. The results of this work have important implications for understanding the scope of language selectivity and for explaining the mechanisms of control in bilingual speech production. A secondary goal of the present study was to use the distractor paradigm to test the assumptions of the Revised Hierarchical Model. The experiments were designed to examine hypothesized asymmetries in the degree to which conceptual information supports translation. To address these questions, six experiments were conducted using picture-word translation and naming tasks. The results showed that, under different conditions, both the phonology and semantics of distractor stimuli were activated. A critical finding in the translation experiments (Experiment 1, Experiment 2, and Experiment 3) was that the phonology of distractors became available even when the name was related only to the language of production. Another important finding in the translation experiments was that there was only evidence that the semantics of distractors was available when bilinguals translated from L1 to L2, supporting the Revised Hierarchical Model’s assumption that the L1 has privileged access to meaning.