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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Two languages, one mind: the effects of language learning on motion event processing in early Cantonese-English bilinguals


Can learning a second language (L2) redirect what we perceive to be similar events? This study investigated how Cantonese- English bilinguals categorized and processed spontaneous motion when the access to language ranged from maximal to minimal. In Experiment 1, participants verbalized the target events in either Cantonese or English right before making their similarity judgements. Results suggested that bilinguals patterned with English monolinguals in both lexicalization and conceptualization irrespective of the language of operation. In Experiment 2, participants experienced verbal interference while making their decisions. Results showed that bilinguals followed an English-like way in event conceptualization as indicated by their processing efficiency of manner and path. However, no cross-linguistic differences were found in speakers’ categorical preferences. The overall findings suggest that subtle typological differences between the L1 and L2 can restructure bilinguals’ cognitive behaviour. And the magnitude of such impact is modulated by different degrees of language involvement.

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