Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-768dbb666b-ptlz9 Total loading time: 0.851 Render date: 2023-02-03T18:05:13.833Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

9 - Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Bilingual Lexical Ambiguity

from Part IV - Neuroscience of Bilingual Lexical Access

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2019

Roberto R. Heredia
Texas A & M University
Anna B. Cieślicka
Texas A & M University
Get access


This chapter elucidates the behavioral and neural underpinnings of bilingual lexical ambiguity processing during both first language (L1) and second language (L2) reading. It provides an overview of the eye-tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research on bilingual nonselective lexical access, as assessed through cognates, interlingual homographs, and cross-language orthographic neighbors (i.e., words that are lexically ambiguous across languages). Ultimately, the chapter demonstrates that eye movement patterns vary as a function of the nature and amount of cross-language overlap, as well as individual differences in L2 background and executive control capacity. It also demonstrates that left hemisphere brain regions implicated in executive functions (e.g., inferior frontal gyrus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia) are also implicated in resolving cross-language lexical ambiguity.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Further Reading

Dijkstra, T., Wahl, A., Buytenhuijs, F., van Halem, N., Al-Jibouri, Z., De Korte, M., & Rekké, S. (2019). Multilink: A computational model for bilingual word recognition and word translation. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 22(4), 657–679. doi: 10.1017/S1366728918000287
Hut, S. C., Helenius, P., Leminen, A., Mäkelä, J. P., & Lehtonen, M. (2017). Language control mechanisms differ for native languages: Neuromagnetic evidence from trilingual language switching. Neuropsychologia, 107, 108120.
Kovelman, I., Baker, S. A., & Petitto, L. A. (2008). Bilingual and monolingual brains compared: A functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation of syntactic processing and a possible “neural signature” of bilingualism. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 153169.
Lauro, J., & Schwartz, A. I. (2018). Cognate effects on anaphor processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 747769.


Abutalebi, J., Annoni, J. M., Zimine, I., Pegna, A. J., Seghier, M. L., Lee-Jahnke, H., … & Khateb, A. (2007). Language control and lexical competition in bilinguals: An event-related fMRI study. Cerebral Cortex, 18, 14961505.
Abutalebi, J., Cappa, S. F., & Perani, D. (2005). What can functional neuroimaging tell us about the bilingual brain. In Kroll, J. F. & De Groot, A. M. B. (Eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches (pp. 497515) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Abutalebi, J., Della Rosa, P. A., Ding, G., Weekes, B., Costa, A., & Green, D. W. (2013). Language proficiency modulates the engagement of cognitive control areas in multilinguals. Cortex, 49, 905911.
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2007). Bilingual language production: The neurocognition of language representation and control. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 20, 242275.
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2008). Control mechanisms in bilingual language production: Neural evidence from language switching studies. Language and Cognitive Processes, 23, 557582.
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2016). Neuroimaging of language control in bilinguals: Neural adaptation and reserve. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 689698.
Bilenko, N. Y., Grindrod, C. M., Myers, E. B., & Blumstein, S. E. (2008). Neural correlates of semantic competition during processing of ambiguous words. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 960975.
Branzi, F. M., Calabria, M., Boscarino, M. L., & Costa, A. (2016). On the overlap between bilingual language control and domain-general executive control. Acta Psychologica, 166, 2130.
Branzi, F. M., Della Rosa, P. A., Canini, M., Costa, A., & Abutalebi, J. (2015). Language control in bilinguals: monitoring and response selection. Cerebral Cortex, 26, 23672380.
Braver, T. S. (2012). The variable nature of cognitive control: A dual mechanisms framework. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16, 106113.
Buchweitz, A., Shinkareva, S. V., Mason, R. A., Mitchell, T. M., & Just, M. A. (2012). Identifying bilingual semantic neural representations across languages. Brain and Language, 120, 282289.
Calabria, M., Costa, A., Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2018). Neural basis of bilingual language control. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1426, 221235.
Chee, M. W., Soon, C. S., & Lee, H. L. (2003). Common and segregated neuronal networks for different languages revealed using functional magnetic resonance adaptation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15, 8597.
Coltheart, M., Davelaar, E., Jonasson, J. F., & Besner, D. (1977). Access to the internal lexicon. In Dornic, S. (Eds.), Attention and Performance, Vol. 4 (pp. 535555). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Cop, U., Dirix, N., van Assche, E., Drieghe, D., & Duyck, W. (2017). Reading a book in one or two languages? An eye movement study of cognate facilitation in L1 and L2 reading. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 20, 747769.
Crinion, J., Turner, R., Grogan, A., Hanakawa, T., Noppeney, U., Devlin, J. T., … & Usui, K. (2006). Language control in the bilingual brain. Science, 312, 15371540.
De Groot, A. M., Delmaar, P., & Lupker, S. J. (2000). The processing of interlexical homographs in translation recognition and lexical decision: Support for non-selective access to bilingual memory. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53, 397428.
Dijkstra, T., & van Heuven, W. J. B. (1998). The BIA model and bilingual word recognition. In Grainger, J. & Jacobs, A. (Eds.), Localist Connectionist Approaches to Human Cognition (pp. 189225). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Dirix, N., Cop, U., Drieghe, D., & Duyck, W. (2017). Cross-lingual neighborhood effects in generalized lexical decision and natural reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 43, 887915.
Duyck, W., van Assche, E., Drieghe, D., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2007). Visual word recognition by bilinguals in a sentence context: evidence for nonselective lexical access. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 663679.
Gazzaniga, M. S. (Ed.). (2014). Handbook of cognitive neuroscience. Washington, DC: Dana Press.
Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 515530.
Hervais-Adelman, A. G., Moser-Mercer, B., & Golestani, N. (2011). Executive control of language in the bilingual brain: Integrating the evidence from neuroimaging to neuropsychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 234.
Hoenig, K., & Scheef, L. (2009). Neural correlates of semantic ambiguity processing during context verification. NeuroImage, 45, 10091019.
Hosoda, C., Hanakawa, T., Nariai, T., Ohno, K., & Honda, M. (2012). Neural mechanisms of language switch. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 25, 4461.
Hoversten, L. J., & Traxler, M. J. (2016). A time course analysis of interlingual homograph processing: Evidence from eye movements. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 347360.
Hsieh, M. C., Jeong, H., Kawata, K. H. D. S., Sasaki, Y., Lee, H. C., Yokoyama, S., … & Kawashima, R. (2017). Neural correlates of bilingual language control during interlingual homograph processing in a logogram writing system. Brain and Language, 174, 7285.
Ketteler, D., Kastrau, F., Vohn, R., & Huber, W. (2008). The subcortical role of language processing. High level linguistic features such as ambiguity-resolution and the human brain: An fMRI study. NeuroImage, 39, 20022009.
Klein, D., Zatorre, R. J., Chen, J. K., Milner, B., Crane, J., Belin, P., & Bouffard, M. (2006). Bilingual brain organization: A functional magnetic resonance adaptation study. NeuroImage, 31, 366375.
Klepousniotou, E., Gracco, V. L., & Pike, G. B. (2014). Pathways to lexical ambiguity: fMRI evidence for bilateral fronto-parietal involvement in language processing. Brain and Language, 131, 5664.
Kroll, J. F., Dussias, P. E., Bice, K., & Perrotti, L. (2015). Bilingualism, mind, and brain. Annual Review of Linguistics, 1, 377394.
Kroll, J. F., Gullifer, J., & Zirnstein, M. (2016). Literacy in adulthood: Reading in two languages. In Nicoladis, E., & Montanari, S. (Eds.), Lifespan perspectives on bilingualism (pp. 225245). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Kroll, J. F., & Ma, F. (2018). The bilingual lexicon. In Fernández, E. M. & Cairns, H. S. (Eds.), The handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 294319). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Lauro, J., & Schwartz, A. I. (2017). Bilingual non-selective lexical access in sentence contexts: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Memory and Language, 92, 217233.
Lemhöfer, K., Huestegge, L., & Mulder, K. (2018). Another cup of TEE? The processing of second language near-cognates in first language reading. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 33, 124.
Libben, M. R., & Titone, D. A. (2009). Bilingual lexical access in context: evidence from eye movements during reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 381390.
Liversedge, S., Gilchrist, I., & Everling, S. (Eds.). (2011). The Oxford handbook of eye movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Luck, S. J. (2014). An introduction to the event-related potential technique. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Macizo, P., Bajo, T., & Martín, M. C. (2010). Inhibitory processes in bilingual language comprehension: Evidence from Spanish–English interlexical homographs. Journal of Memory and Language, 63, 232244.
Mason, R. A., & Just, M. A. (2007). Lexical ambiguity in sentence comprehension. Brain Research, 1146, 115127.
Norman, D. A., & Shallice, T. (1986). Attention to action: Willed and automatic control of behaviour. In Davidson, R. J., Schwartz, G. E., & Shapiro, D. (Eds.), Consciousness and Self-Regulation (pp. 118). Boston, MA: Springer.
Novick, J. M., Trueswell, J. C., & Thompson-Schill, S. L. (2005). Cognitive control and parsing: Reexamining the role of Broca’s area in sentence comprehension. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 5, 263281.
Pivneva, I., Mercier, J., & Titone, D. (2014). Executive control modulates cross-language lexical activation during L2 reading: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40, 787796.
Pliatsikas, C., & Luk, G. (2016). Executive control in bilinguals: A concise review on fMRI studies. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 699705.
Rayner, K. (1998). Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 372422.
Rayner, K. (2009). Eye movements and attention in reading, scene perception, and visual search. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 14571506.
Rayner, K., Pacht, J. M., & Duffy, S. A. (1994). Effects of prior encounter and global discourse bias on the processing of lexically ambiguous words: Evidence from eye fixations. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 527544.
Rayner, K., Pollatsek, A., Ashby, J., & Clifton, C.E. (2012). The psychology of reading. New York: Psychology Press.
Rodd, J. M., Davis, M. H., & Johnsrude, I. S. (2005). The neural mechanisms of speech comprehension: fMRI studies of semantic ambiguity. Cerebral Cortex, 15, 12611269.
Rodd, J. M., Longe, O. A., Randall, B., & Tyler, L. K. (2010). The functional organisation of the fronto-temporal language system: Evidence from syntactic and semantic ambiguity. Neuropsychologia, 48, 13241335.
Arêas da Luz Fontes, A. B., & Schwartz, A. I. (2015). Bilingual access of homonym meanings: Individual differences in bilingual access of homonym meanings. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 18, 639656.
Seo, R., Stocco, A., & Prat, C. S. (2018). The bilingual language network: Differential involvement of anterior cingulate, basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex in preparation, monitoring, and execution. NeuroImage, 174, 4456.
Thompson-Schill, S. L., D’Esposito, M., Aguirre, G. K., & Farah, M. J. (1997). Role of left inferior prefrontal cortex in retrieval of semantic knowledge: A reevaluation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 94, 1479214797.
Titone, D., Libben, M., Mercier, J., Whitford, V., & Pivneva, I. (2011). Bilingual lexical access during L1 sentence reading: The effects of L2 knowledge, semantic constraint, and L1–L2 intermixing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37, 14121431.
Titone, D., Whitford, V., Lijewska, A., & Itzhak, I. (2016). Bilingualism, executive control, and eye movement measures of reading: A selective review and reanalysis of bilingual vs. multilingual reading data. In Schwieter, J. (Ed.), Cognitive control and consequences in the multilingual mind (pp. 1146). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
van Assche, E., Drieghe, D., Duyck, W., Welvaert, M., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2011). The influence of semantic constraints on bilingual word recognition during sentence reading. Journal of Memory and Language, 64, 88107.
van Assche, E., Duyck, W., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2012). Bilingual word recognition in a sentence context. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 174.
van Assche, E., Duyck, W., Hartsuiker, R. J., & Diependaele, K. (2009). Does bilingualism change native-language reading? Cognate effects in a sentence context. Psychological Science, 20, 923927.
van de Putte, E., De Baene, W., Brass, M., & Duyck, W. (2017). Neural overlap of L1 and L2 semantic representations in speech: A decoding approach. NeuroImage, 162, 106116.
Vitello, S., & Rodd, J. M. (2015). Resolving semantic ambiguities in sentences: Cognitive processes and brain mechanisms. Language and Linguistics Compass, 9, 391405.
Wang, Y., Kuhl, P. K., Chen, C., & Dong, Q. (2009). Sustained and transient language control in the bilingual brain. NeuroImage, 47, 414422.
Whitford, V., & Titone, D. (2019). Lexical entrenchment and cross-language activation: Two sides of the same coin for bilingual reading across the adult lifespan. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 22, 5877.
Whitford, V., Pivneva, I., & Titone, D. (2016). Eye movement methods to investigate bilingual reading. In Heredia, R. R., Altarriba, J., & Cieślicka, A. B. (Eds.), Methods in bilingual reading comprehension research (pp. 183212). New York: Springer-Verlag.
Zou, L., Ding, G., Abutalebi, J., Shu, H., & Peng, D. (2012). Structural plasticity of the left caudate in bimodal bilinguals. Cortex, 48, 11971206.

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats