Word frequency predicts translation asymmetry
Publication date: August 2017 Source:Journal of Memory and Language, Volume 95 Author(s): Anna Ibrahim, Patricia E. Cowell, Rosemary A. Varley Bilingualism studies report asymmetries in word processing across languages. Access to L2 words is slower and sensitive to semantic blocking. These observations inform influential models of bilingual processing, which propose autonomous lexicons with different processing routes. In a series of experiments, we explored an alternative hypothesis that the asymmetries are due to frequency of use. Using a within-language ‘translation’ task, involving high/low frequency (HF/LF) synonyms, we obtained parallel results to bilingual studies. Experiment 1 revealed that HF synonyms were accessed faster than LF ones. Experiment 2 showed that semantic blocking slowed retrieval only of LF synonyms, while form blocking produced powerful interference of both HF and LF words. Experiment 3 examined translation speed and sensitivity to blocking in two groups of Russian-English bilinguals who differed in frequency of use of their languages. Translation asymmetries were modulated by frequency of use. The results support an integrated lexicon model of bilingual processing.