Unified syntax in the bilingual mind


  • Declerck Mathieu
  • Wen Yun
  • Snell Joshua
  • Meade Gabriela
  • Grainger Jonathan

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Are syntactic representations shared across languages, and how might that inform the nature of syntactic computations? To investigate these issues, we presented French-English bilinguals with mixed-language word sequences for 200 ms and asked them to report the identity of one word at a post-cued location. The words either formed an interpretable grammatical sequence via shared syntax (e.g., ses feet sont big-where the French words ses and sont translate into his and are, respectively) or an ungrammatical sequence with the same words (e.g., sont feet ses big). Word identification was significantly greater in the grammatical sequences-a bilingual sentence superiority effect. These results not only provide support for shared syntax, but also reveal a fascinating ability of bilinguals to simultaneously connect words from their two languages through these shared syntactic representations.

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