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Conceptual representation in bilingual memory: Effects of concreteness and cognate status in word association

  • JANET G. VAN HELL (a1) and ANNETTE M. B. DE GROOT (a1)


A word association experiment examined conceptual representation in bilingual memory. Dutch-English bilinguals associated twice to nouns and verbs that varied on concreteness and cognate status, once in the language of the stimuli (within-language), and once in the other language (between-language). Within- and between-language associations for concrete words and for cognates were more often translations of one another than those for abstract words and noncognates, and nouns evoked more translations than verbs. In both within- and between-language association, retrieving an associate was easier to concrete than to abstract words, to cognates than to noncognates, and to nouns than to verbs. These findings suggest that conceptual representation in bilingual memory depends on word-type and grammatical class: concrete translations, cognates, and noun translations more often share, or share larger parts of, a conceptual representation than abstract translations, noncognates, and verb translations. The results are discussed within the framework of distributed memory representation.


Corresponding author

Janet G. van Hell, Department of Special Education, University of Nijmegen, PO Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, Netherlands E-mail:


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In carrying out this research, Janet G. van Hell was supported by the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research (NWO, Grant 575-56-073). Part of this study was presented at the Ninth Conference of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology, Würzburg, Germany, September 1996. We thank Evelien van Hell, Frans Padt, and Martin van Leerdam for their contributions to this study. We thank Alexandra Sholl, Anna Bosman, François Grosjean, Jim Clark, Judith Kroll, Marilyn Smith, and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper.



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