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Cross-language effects in written word recognition: The case of bilingual deaf children*



In recent years, multiple studies have shown that the languages of a bilingual interact during processing. We investigated sign activation as deaf children read words. In a word–picture verification task, we manipulated the underlying sign equivalents. We presented children with word–picture pairs for which the sign translation equivalents varied with respect to sign phonology overlap (i.e., handshape, movement, hand-palm orientation, and location) and sign iconicity (i.e., transparent depiction of meaning or not). For the deaf children, non-matching word–picture pairs with sign translation equivalents that had highly similar elements (i.e., strong sign phonological relations) showed relatively longer response latencies and more errors than non-matching word–picture pairs without sign phonological relations (inhibitory effects). In contrast, matching word–picture pairs with strongly iconic sign translation equivalents showed relatively shorter response latencies and fewer errors than pairs with weakly iconic translation equivalents (facilitatory effects). No such activation effects were found in the word–picture verification task for the hearing children. The results provide evidence for interactive cross-language processing in deaf children.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Ellen Ormel, Department of Linguistics, Radboud University Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9103, 6500 HD Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


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We would like to thank Marchien Hoffer for her contributions to this study. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. Parts of the data for the present study have been presented at the 5th International Symposium on Bilingualism, 2005 and the 20th Annual CUNY conference on human sentence processing, 2007. This research was supported by Royal Dutch Kentalis.



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