Grammatical constraints on language switching: Language control is not just executive control

Tamar H. Gollan*, Matthew Goldrick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


The current study investigated the roles of grammaticality and executive control on bilingual language selection by examining production speed and failures of language control, or intrusion errors (e.g., saying el instead of the), in young and aging bilinguals. Production of mixed-language connected speech was elicited by asking Spanish-English bilinguals to read aloud paragraphs that had mostly grammatical (conforming to naturally occurring constraints) or mostly ungrammatical (haphazard mixing) language switches, and low or high switching rate. Mixed-language speech was slower and less accurate when switch-rate was high, but especially (for speed) or only (for intrusion errors) if switches were also ungrammatical. Executive function ability (measured with a variety of tasks in young bilinguals in Experiment 1, and aging bilinguals in Experiment 2), slowed production and increased intrusion rate in a generalized fashion, but with little or no interaction with grammaticality. Aging effects appeared to reflect reduced monitoring ability (evidenced by a lower rate of self-corrected intrusions). These results demonstrate robust effects of grammatical encoding on language selection, and imply that executive control influences bilingual language production only after sentence planning and lexical selection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-199
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Aging
  • Bilingualism
  • Inhibition
  • Intrusion errors
  • Read aloud
  • Reversed dominance
  • Speech errors
  • Switching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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