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The impact of a subordinate L1 on L2 auditory processing in adult bilinguals*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 January 2010

University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Address for correspondence: Minh Nguyen-Hoan, School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052,


For bilinguals born in an English-speaking country or who arrive at a young age, English (L2) often becomes their dominant language by adulthood. This study examines whether such adult bilinguals show equivalent performance to monolingual English native speakers on three English auditory processing tasks: phonemic awareness, spelling-to-dictation and auditory comprehension. The study contrasts three bilingual language groups differing in their L1: morphosyllabic/logographic L1 (Cantonese), morphosyllabic/alphabetic (Vietnamese) L1 and non-morphosyllabic/alphabetic L1 (Other). Particularly on the tasks that involved nonwords, the morphosyllabic bilingual groups performed most poorly, suggesting an effect of L1 phonological structure on English processing despite L1 having become subordinate to L2. The results indicate that even when a bilingual is born, raised and educated in their L2 environment, native equivalence in L2 is not assured.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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The research reported in this paper was partly supported by a grant to the second author from the Australian Research Council.


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