Skip to main content Accessibility help

Senior Chinese high school students' awareness of thematic and taxonomic relations in L1 and L2*

  • DEGAO LI (a1), XIANNV ZHANG (a2) and GUOYING WANG (a3)


In the development of their semantic networks, bilinguals can be influenced by the levels of proficiency they have in their second language (L2) and by the age at which they acquired the language. Two exercises, one in word association and one in forced-choice decision-making, were used to test whether the pattern of relative awareness of thematic and taxonomic relations that senior Chinese high school students had in L2 differed from the pattern they had in their first language (L1). The results consistently indicated that (i) the participants appeared as aware of taxonomic relations in L2 as they were in L1; and (ii) they were more readily aware of thematic than of taxonomic relations in L1 but less readily aware of thematic than of taxonomic relations in L2. It was concluded that with taxonomic relations, low-proficiency bilinguals could have a common set of conceptual representations for both L2 and L1, as they are assumed in the revised hierarchical model (RHM) to have. With thematic associations, they might have more difficulty gaining access to their representations in L2 than they might have in L1.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Degao Li, School of International Studies, Zhejiang University, 388#, Yuhangtang Rd., Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China


Hide All

The authors wish to express their sincere gratitude to the four reviewers for their constructive comments.



Hide All
Altarriba, J. (2000). Language processing and memory retrieval in Spanish–English bilinguals. Spanish Applied Linguistics, 4, 215245.
Altarriba, J., & Mathis, K. M. (1997). Conceptual and lexical development in second language acquisition. Journal of Memory and Language, 36, 550568.
Basnight-Brown, D. M., & Altarriba, J. (2007). Differences in semantic and translation priming across languages: The role of language direction and language dominance. Memory & Cognition, 35 (5), 953965.
Blot, K. J., Zárate, M. A., & Paulus, P. B. (2003). Code-switching across brainstorming sessions: Implications for the revised hierarchical model of bilingual language processing. Experimental Psychology, 50 (3), 171183.
Borghi, A. M., & Caramelli, N. (2003). Situation bounded conceptual organization in children: From action to spatial relations. Cognitive Development, 18, 4960.
Chaffin, R. (1997). Associations to unfamiliar words: Learning the meanings of new words. Memory & Cognition, 25, 203226.
Chen, H.-C., d'Arcais, G. B. F., & Cheung, S.-L. (1995). Orthographic and phonological activation in recognizing Chinese characters. Psychological Research, 58, 144153.
Collins, A. M., & Loftus, E. F. (1975). A spreading-activation theory of semantic processing. Psychological Review, 82 (6), 407429.
Comesaña, M., Perea, M., Piñeiro, A., & Fraga, I. (2009). Vocabulary teaching strategies and conceptual representations of words in L2 in children: Evidence with novice learners. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 104, 2233.
Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society. Los Angeles, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education.
de Groot, A. M. B. (1992). Determinants of word translation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 18, 10011018.
de Groot, A. M. B. (1993). Word-type effects in bilingual processing tasks: Support for a mixed-representational system. In Schreuder, R. & Weltens, B. (eds.), The bilingual lexicon, pp. 2751 Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Dong, Y. (1998). Methods used in memory tests of bilinguals’ mental lexicons. Journal of Pla University of Foreign Languages, 21 (5), 18.
Dong, Y., Gui, S., & MacWhinney, B. (2005). Shared and separate meanings in the bilingual mental lexicon. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 8 (3), 221238.
Ferré, P., Sánchez-Casas, R., & Guasch, M. (2006). Can a horse be a donkey? Semantic and form interference effects in translation recognition in early and late proficient and non-proficient Spanish–Catalan bilinguals. Language Learning, 56 (4), 571608.
Finkbeiner, M., Forster, K., Nicol, J., & Nakamura, K. (2004). The role of polysemy in masked semantic and translation priming. Journal of Memory and Language, 51, 122.
Fitzpatrick, T. (2007). Word association patterns: Unpacking the assumptions. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 17 (3), 319331.
French, R. M., & Jacquet, M. (2004). Understanding bilingual memory: Models and data. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, 8 (2), 8793.
Henriksen, B. (1999). Three dimensions of vocabulary development. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 21, 303317.
Ji, L., Zhang, Z., & Nisbett, R. E. (2004). Is it culture or is it language? Examination of language effects in cross-cultural research on categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (1), 5765.
Jiang, N., & Forster, K. I. (2001). Cross-language priming asymmetries in lexical decision and episodic recognition. Journal of Memory and Language, 44, 3251.
Kalénine, S., Peyrin, C., Pichat, C., Segebarth, C., Bonthoux, F., & Baciu, M. (2009). The sensory-motor specificity of taxonomic and thematic conceptual relations: A behavioral and fMRI study. NeuroImage, 44, 11521162.
Kroll, J. F., Michael, E. B., & Sankaranarayanan, A. (1998). A model of bilingual representation and its implications for second language acquisition. In Healy, A. F. & Bourne, L. E. Jr. (eds.), Foreign language learning: Psycholinguistic studies on training and retention, pp. 365395. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Kroll, J. F., & Stewart, E. (1990, November). Concept mediation in bilingual translation. Presented at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, New Orleans.
Kroll, J. F., & Stewart, E. (1994). Category interference in translation and picture naming: Evidence for asymmetric connections between bilingual memory representations. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 149174.
Lee, Y., Chiang, W., & Hung, H. (2008). Lexical association and false memory for words in two cultures. Journal of Psycholinguist Research, 37, 4958.
Li, D., & Zhang, J. (2009). Chinese deaf adolescents’ free recall of taxonomic, thematic, and slot-filler categories. Journal of Scandinavian Psychology, 50, 355366.
Li, D., Zhang, J., He, W., Chen, X., Zhang, X., Lin, X., & Li, L. (2009). Deaf adolescents’ word association with taxonomic categories. Chinese Special Education, 114, 2831.
Li, L., Mo, L., Wang, R., Luo, X., & Chen, Z. (2009). Evidence for long-term cross-language repetition priming in low fluency Chinese–English bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12 (1), 1321.
Li, X., & Sun, L. (2007). An investigation into second language mental lexicon with word association. Foreign Languages and Translation, 53, 6367.
Lin, E. L., & Murphy, G. L. (2001). Thematic relations in adults’ concepts. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130 (1), 328.
Lucariello, J., & Nelson, K. (1985). Slot–filler categories as memory organizers for young children. Developmental Psychology, 21, 272282.
Marian, V., & Fausey, C. M. (2006). Language-dependent memory in bilingual learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 10251047.
Marschark, M., Convertino, C., McEvoy, C., & Masteller, A. (2004). Organization and use of the mental lexicon by deaf and hearing individuals. American Annals of the Deaf, 149 (1), 5161.
Murphy, G. L. (2001). Causes of taxonomic sorting by adults: A test of the thematic-to-taxonomic shift. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 8 (4), 834839.
Namei, S. (2004). Bilingual lexical development: A Persian–Swedish word association study. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 14 (3), 363388.
Nelson, D. L., McEvoy, C. L., & Schreiber, T. A. (1998). The University of South Florida word association, rhyme, and word fragment norms. (retrieved February 3, 2004).
Nissen, H. B., & Henriksen, B. (2006). Word class influence on word association test results. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 16 (3), 389408.
O'Gorman, E. (1996). An investigation of the mental lexicon of second language learners. TEANGA: The Irish Yearbook of Applied Linguistics, 16, 1531.
Ordóñez, C. L., Carlo, M. S., Snow, C. E., & McLaughlin, B. (2002). Depth and breadth of vocabulary in two languages: Which vocabulary skills transfer? Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 719728.
Peña, E., Bedore, L. M., & Rappazzo, C. (2003). Comparison of Spanish, English, and bilingual children's performance across semantic tasks. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 34 (1), 516.
Peña, E. D., Bedore, L. M., & Zlatic-Giunta, R. (2002). Category-generation performance of bilingual children: The influence of condition, category and language. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 45 (5), 938947.
Pennequin, V., Fontaine, R., Bonthoux, F. Scheuner, N., & Blaye, A. (2006). Categorization deficit in old age: Reality or artifact? Journal of Adult Development, 13 (1), 19.
Perea, M., Duñabeitia, J. A., & Carreiras, M. (2008). Masked associative/semantic priming effects across languages with highly proficient bilinguals. Journal of Memory and Language, 58 (4), 916930.
Potter, M. C., So, K., Eckardt, V., & Feldman, L. (1984). Lexical and conceptual representation in beginning and proficient bilinguals. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 23, 2338.
Rosch, E., Mervis, C. B., Gray, W. D., Johnson, D. M., & Boyes-Braem, P. (1976). Basic objects in natural categories. Cognitive Psychology, 8, 382439.
Sachs, O., Weis, S., Zellagui, N., Huber, W., Zvyagintsev, M., Mathiak, K., & Kircher, T. (2008). Automatic processing of semantic relations in fMRI: Neural activation during semantic priming of taxonomic and thematic categories. Brain Research, 1218, 194205.
Sass, K., Sachs, O., Krach, S., & Kircher, T. (2009). Taxonomic and thematic categories: Neural correlates of categorization in an auditory-to-visual priming task using fMRI. Brain Research, 1270, 7887.
Scarborough, D. L., Gerard, L., & Cortese, C. (1984). Independence of lexical access in bilingual word recognition. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 23, 8499.
Scheuner, N., Bonthoux, F., Cannard, C., & Blaye, A. (2004). The role of associative strength and conceptual relations in matching tasks in 4- and 6-year-old children. International Journal of Psychology, 39 (4), 290304.
Schmitt, N. (1998). Quantifying word association responses: What is native-like? System, 26, 389401.
Schoonbaert, S., Duyck, W., Brysbaert, M., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2009). Semantic and translation priming from a first language to a second and back: Making sense of the findings. Memory & Cognition, 37 (5), 569586.
Scribner, S. (1974). Developmental aspects of categorized recall in a West African society. Cognitive Psychology, 6, 475494.
Sheng, L., McGregor, K. K., & Marian, V. (2006). Lexical–semantic organization in bilingual children: Evidence from a repeated word association task. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 49, 572587.
Stenberg, G. (2006). Conceptual and perceptual factors in the picture superiority effect. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 18 (6), 813847.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1999). Thinking and language. Hongzhou: Zhejiang Education Press.
Wolter, B. (2001). Comparing the L1 and L2 mental lexicon: A depth of individual word knowledge model. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 23, 4170.
Wolter, B. (2006). Lexical network structures and L2 vocabulary acquisition: The role of L1 lexical/conceptual knowledge. Applied Linguistics, 27 (4), 741747.
Zhang, J., Li, D., & Wu, X. (2008). Deaf adolescents’ representations of taxonomic relations. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 40 (11), 11781189.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Senior Chinese high school students' awareness of thematic and taxonomic relations in L1 and L2*

  • DEGAO LI (a1), XIANNV ZHANG (a2) and GUOYING WANG (a3)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.