Cross-language influences: Translation status affects intraword sense relatedness

Tamar Degani, Natasha Tokowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many words have more than one meaning, and these meanings vary in their degree of relatedness. In the present experiment, we examined whether this degree of relatedness is influenced by whether or not the two meanings share a translation in a bilingual's other language. Native English speakers with Spanish as a second language (i.e., English-Spanish bilinguals) and native Spanish speakers with English as a second language (i.e., Spanish-English bilinguals) were presented with pairs of phrases instantiating different senses of ambiguous English words (e.g., dinner date-expiration date) and were asked to decide whether the two senses were related in meaning. Critically, for some pairs of phrases, a single Spanish translation encompassed both meanings of the ambiguous word (joint-translation condition; e.g., mercado in Spanish refers to both a flea market and the housing market), but for others, each sense corresponded to a different Spanish translation (split-translation condition; e.g., cita in Spanish refers to a dinner date, but fecha refers to an expiration date). The proportions of "yes" (related) responses revealed that, relative to monolingual English speakers, Spanish-English bilinguals consider joint-translation senses to be less related than split-translation senses. These findings exemplify semantic cross-language influences from a first to a second language and reveal the semantic structure of the bilingual lexicon.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1046-1064
Number of pages19
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Bilingualism
  • Semantic ambiguity
  • Word sense ambiguity

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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