Dominance takes precedence: L3 English processing by Basque-Spanish bilinguals.


Abstract  Word-formation processes vary greatly among languages, although those which are typologically close tend to cluster around particular configurations which may or may not differ from those of other linguistic families. Compound words in Romance and Germanic languages have been considered by both theoretical linguists (Contreras, 1985; Snyder, 2001) and acquisitionists (Liceras & Díaz, 2000; Slabakova, 2002; García Mayo, 2006), with the latter focusing more on the interplay between two or more systems in a multilingual setting. The case of deverbal N+N compounds (e.g. can opener) in English as compared to their [V+N]N Spanish semantic equivalents (e.g. abrelatas ‘can opener’, lit. ‘opens-cans’) is particularly interesting. What seems apparent is that Spanish and English do not lexicalise verb-noun relationships in the same way. Basque, in contrast, does seem to have direct parallels with English: Basque deverbal compounds are also right-headed N+N constructions, in which the deverbal head has been nominalised through affixation (e.g. lata irekigailu, lit. ‘can opener’). Considering these facts, are there any facilitatory effects in processing for those bilinguals whose L1 is similar to the L3 (English) in the formation of deverbal compounds? An experiment was carried out in which we controlled for both language profile and proficiency. Ninety-nine participants belonging to one of three language groups (L1–Spanish monolinguals, L1Basque–L2Spanish bilinguals and L1Spanish–L2Basque bilinguals) were assigned to one of three levels of proficiency in English (high, medium or low) based on their scores on the standardised Oxford Placement Test, and further tested in a lexical decision task, where they were asked to respond whether the items appearing on screen were actual English words. For the critical conditions, 42 high-frequency English compounds and 42 pseudo-compounds (non-words) were used. The design was completed with 168 fillers: 84 non-compound words and 84 non-words. We predicted practically equal accuracy rates for all groups at comparable levels of proficiency, since the effect is not expected to override lexical knowledge; a faster performance of the monolingual group, due to an attested higher processing cost in bilinguals (Ivanova & Costa, 2008); and shorter response latencies for the Basque-dominant bilinguals as opposed to their Spanish-dominant counterparts, since the critical structure is hypothesised to be more readily available for the former group. Response latencies and accuracy rates were analysed with two independent two-way ANOVA with proficiency in English and language profile as factors. Results have largely matched our predictions: no significant effect of the participants’ linguistic profile was found on their accuracy rates (F(2) = 0.098, p = .906), a factor which was however significantly influential on their response latencies to the critical conditions (F(2) = 31.334, p

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