Cross-Language Influences in the Processing of Multiword Expressions: From a First Language to Second and Back
The present study investigated cross-language influences in the processing of binomial expressions (knife and fork), from a first language (L1) to a second language (L2) and from L2 to L1. Two groups of unbalanced bilinguals (Chinese/L1-English/L2 and English/L1-Chinese/L2) and a control group of English monolinguals performed a visual lexical decision task that incorporated unmasked priming. To assess cross-language influences, we used three types of expressions: congruent binomials (English binomials that have translation equivalents in Chinese), English-only binomials, and Chinese-only binomials translated into English. Lexical decision latencies to the last word (fork) in a binomial (knife and fork) were compared with response latencies to the same word in a matched control phrase (spoon and fork). We found that (1) Chinese-English bilinguals showed a significant priming effect for congruent binomials but no facilitation for English-only binomials, (2) English–Chinese bilinguals showed a trend toward priming for congruent binomials, which did not reach statistical significance, and no priming for English-only binomials, (3) English monolinguals showed comparable priming for congruent and English-only binomials. With respect to the Chinese-only binomials, none of the three participant groups showed priming for translated Chinese-only binomials over controls. These findings suggest that L1 influences the processing of L2 binomials, and that there may be some cross-linguistic influence in the opposite direction, i.e., from L2 to L1, although to a lesser extent.