Covert co-activation of bilinguals’ non-target language phonological competition from translations

Anthony Shook, Viorica Marian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


When listening to spoken language, bilinguals access words in both of their languages at the same time; this co-activation is often driven by phonological input mapping to candidates in multiple languages during online comprehension. Here, we examined whether cross-linguistic activation could occur covertly when the input does not overtly cue words in the non-target language. When asked in English to click an image of a duck, English-Spanish bilinguals looked more to an image of a shovel than to unrelated distractors, because the Spanish translations of the words duck and shovel (pato and pala, respectively) overlap phonologically in the non-target language. Our results suggest that bilinguals access their unused language, even in the absence of phonologically overlapping input. We conclude that during bilingual speech comprehension, words presented in a single language activate translation equivalents, with further spreading activation to unheard phonological competitors. These findings support highly interactive theories of language processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)228-252
Number of pages25
JournalLinguistic Approaches to Bilingualism
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019


  • Bilingualism
  • Language co-activation
  • Language comprehension

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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