Priming across languages in Spanish-English bilinguals
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The degree to which the two language systems of bilinguals are separate or interact in some way is a question that has been addressed using several methods. In the domain of morphosyntax, results from cross-linguistic priming have shown that bilinguals’ hearing a particular sentence structure in one of their languages increases the likelihood that they will produce a similar structure in the other language. This supports a shared-syntax model of bilingual processing in which bilinguals store similar structures together. Priming from L1 to L2 and L2 to L1 appears to be equally strong (Loebell & Bock, 2003; Schoonbaert, Hartsuiker, & Pickering, 2007) but researchers have not examined in depth how language experience and proficiency variables affect priming. Priming research has also indicated that only those structures that share word order across languages are subject to priming (Bernolet, Hartsuiker, & Pickering, 2007; Loebell & Bock, 2003) but has not addressed whether the verb features such as tense are subject to priming. This study addressed two questions: 1) How do the language experience measures of age of acquisition, current language use, and language proficiency affect priming? and 2) Are tense markings (future and present tenses) subject to priming across languages? Sixty-eight Spanish-English bilingual adults completed a priming task from English to Spanish and from Spanish to English and measures of language experience and proficiency. Results indicate that although passive structures prime across languages, the variables of age of acquisition, current use, and proficiency do not affect priming. This finding provides support for the shared-syntax model as a representation of bilingual language in speakers with diverse levels of experience and proficiency. Results also indicate that tense does not prime across languages. This suggests that languages have separate stores for tense markings.