Bilinguals Show Weaker Lexical Access During Spoken Sentence Comprehension

Anthony Shook*, Matthew Goldrick, Caroline Engstler, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


When bilinguals process written language, they show delays in accessing lexical items relative to monolinguals. The present study investigated whether this effect extended to spoken language comprehension, examining the processing of sentences with either low or high semantic constraint in both first and second languages. English-German bilinguals, German-English bilinguals and English monolinguals listened for target words in spoken English sentences while their eye-movements were recorded. Bilinguals’ eye-movements reflected weaker lexical access relative to monolinguals; furthermore, the effect of semantic constraint differed across first versus second language processing. Specifically, English-native bilinguals showed fewer overall looks to target items, regardless of sentence constraint; German-native bilinguals activated target items more slowly and maintained target activation over a longer period of time in the low-constraint condition compared with monolinguals. No eye movements to cross-linguistic competitors were observed, suggesting that these lexical access disadvantages were present during bilingual spoken sentence comprehension even in the absence of overt interlingual competition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)789-802
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Psycholinguistic Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Bilingualism
  • Eye-tracking
  • Language comprehension
  • Lexical access
  • Sentence processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • General Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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