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Differences in L1 linguistic attention control between monolinguals and bilinguals*



Relational elements of language (e.g. spatial prepositions) act to direct attention to aspects of an incoming message. The listener or reader must be able to use these elements to focus and refocus attention on the mental representation being constructed. Research has shown that this type of attention control is specific to language and can be distinguished from attention control for non-relational (semantic or content) elements. Twenty-two monolinguals (18–30 years) and nineteen bilinguals (18–30 years) completed two conditions of an alternating-runs task-switching paradigm in their first language. The relational condition involved processing spatial prepositions, and the non-relational condition involved processing concrete nouns and adjectives. Overall, monolinguals had significantly larger shift costs (i.e. greater attention control burden) in the relational condition than the non-relational condition, whereas bilinguals performed similarly in both conditions. This suggests that proficiency in a second language has a positive impact on linguistic attention control in one's native language.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Natalie Phillips, Concordia University, Psychology Department, 7141 Sherbrooke West, Montreal, Quebec, H4B 1R6, Canada


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This research was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Canadian Graduate Scholarship awarded to the first author. This work was supported by Grant #203751 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to N.A. Phillips. The authors ackowledge the constructive comments of the reviewers. We gratefully acknowledge the members of the Cognition, Aging and Psychophysiology (CAP) Lab for their assistance in this research and the research participants for their time and effort.



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