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Why is lexical retrieval slower for bilinguals? Evidence from picture naming



Proficient bilinguals demonstrate slower lexical retrieval than comparable monolinguals. The present study tested predictions from two main accounts of this effect, the frequency-lag and competition hypotheses. Both make the same prediction for bilinguals but differ for trilinguals and for age differences. 200 younger or older adults who were monolingual, bilingual, or trilingual performed a picture naming task in English that included high and low frequency words. Naming times were faster for high than for low frequency words and, in line with frequency-lag, group differences were larger for low than high frequency items. However, on all other measures, bilinguals and trilinguals performed equivalently, and lexical retrieval differences between language groups did not attenuate with age, consistent with the competition view.


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Address for correspondence: Ellen Bialystok, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M3J 1P3


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*This research was supported by grant R01HD052523 from the US National Institutes of Health and grant A2559 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada to EB, and grant 91506561 from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to GJP. We thank Cari Bogulski, Ashley Etherington, Zehra Kamani, Yolanda Prescott, Devora Goldberg, Jazmine Rei Que, Ryan Barker, and Mira Aminuddin for their assistance with the study, as well as all of our participants.



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