Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-99c86f546-45s75 Total loading time: 0.697 Render date: 2021-11-27T21:19:49.525Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

9 - Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Bilingual Lexical Ambiguity

from Part IV - Neuroscience of Bilingual Lexical Access

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2019

Roberto R. Heredia
Texas A & M University
Anna B. Cieślicka
Texas A & M University
Get access


This chapter elucidates the behavioral and neural underpinnings of bilingual lexical ambiguity processing during both first language (L1) and second language (L2) reading. It provides an overview of the eye-tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research on bilingual nonselective lexical access, as assessed through cognates, interlingual homographs, and cross-language orthographic neighbors (i.e., words that are lexically ambiguous across languages). Ultimately, the chapter demonstrates that eye movement patterns vary as a function of the nature and amount of cross-language overlap, as well as individual differences in L2 background and executive control capacity. It also demonstrates that left hemisphere brain regions implicated in executive functions (e.g., inferior frontal gyrus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia) are also implicated in resolving cross-language lexical ambiguity.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Dijkstra, T., Wahl, A., Buytenhuijs, F., van Halem, N., Al-Jibouri, Z., De Korte, M., & Rekké, S. (2019). Multilink: A computational model for bilingual word recognition and word translation. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 22(4), 657–679. doi: 10.1017/S1366728918000287CrossRef
Hut, S. C., Helenius, P., Leminen, A., Mäkelä, J. P., & Lehtonen, M. (2017). Language control mechanisms differ for native languages: Neuromagnetic evidence from trilingual language switching. Neuropsychologia, 107, 108120.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kovelman, I., Baker, S. A., & Petitto, L. A. (2008). Bilingual and monolingual brains compared: A functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation of syntactic processing and a possible “neural signature” of bilingualism. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20, 153169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lauro, J., & Schwartz, A. I. (2018). Cognate effects on anaphor processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 747769.Google Scholar
Abutalebi, J., Annoni, J. M., Zimine, I., Pegna, A. J., Seghier, M. L., Lee-Jahnke, H., … & Khateb, A. (2007). Language control and lexical competition in bilinguals: An event-related fMRI study. Cerebral Cortex, 18, 14961505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Abutalebi, J., Cappa, S. F., & Perani, D. (2005). What can functional neuroimaging tell us about the bilingual brain. In Kroll, J. F. & De Groot, A. M. B. (Eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches (pp. 497515) Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Abutalebi, J., Della Rosa, P. A., Ding, G., Weekes, B., Costa, A., & Green, D. W. (2013). Language proficiency modulates the engagement of cognitive control areas in multilinguals. Cortex, 49, 905911.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2007). Bilingual language production: The neurocognition of language representation and control. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 20, 242275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2008). Control mechanisms in bilingual language production: Neural evidence from language switching studies. Language and Cognitive Processes, 23, 557582.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Abutalebi, J., & Green, D. W. (2016). Neuroimaging of language control in bilinguals: Neural adaptation and reserve. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 689698.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bilenko, N. Y., Grindrod, C. M., Myers, E. B., & Blumstein, S. E. (2008). Neural correlates of semantic competition during processing of ambiguous words. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 960975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Branzi, F. M., Calabria, M., Boscarino, M. L., & Costa, A. (2016). On the overlap between bilingual language control and domain-general executive control. Acta Psychologica, 166, 2130.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Branzi, F. M., Della Rosa, P. A., Canini, M., Costa, A., & Abutalebi, J. (2015). Language control in bilinguals: monitoring and response selection. Cerebral Cortex, 26, 23672380.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Braver, T. S. (2012). The variable nature of cognitive control: A dual mechanisms framework. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16, 106113.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Buchweitz, A., Shinkareva, S. V., Mason, R. A., Mitchell, T. M., & Just, M. A. (2012). Identifying bilingual semantic neural representations across languages. Brain and Language, 120, 282289.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Calabria, M., Costa, A., Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2018). Neural basis of bilingual language control. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1426, 221235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chee, M. W., Soon, C. S., & Lee, H. L. (2003). Common and segregated neuronal networks for different languages revealed using functional magnetic resonance adaptation. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15, 8597.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Coltheart, M., Davelaar, E., Jonasson, J. F., & Besner, D. (1977). Access to the internal lexicon. In Dornic, S. (Eds.), Attention and Performance, Vol. 4 (pp. 535555). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Cop, U., Dirix, N., van Assche, E., Drieghe, D., & Duyck, W. (2017). Reading a book in one or two languages? An eye movement study of cognate facilitation in L1 and L2 reading. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 20, 747769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Crinion, J., Turner, R., Grogan, A., Hanakawa, T., Noppeney, U., Devlin, J. T., … & Usui, K. (2006). Language control in the bilingual brain. Science, 312, 15371540.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
De Groot, A. M., Delmaar, P., & Lupker, S. J. (2000). The processing of interlexical homographs in translation recognition and lexical decision: Support for non-selective access to bilingual memory. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53, 397428.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dijkstra, T., & van Heuven, W. J. B. (1998). The BIA model and bilingual word recognition. In Grainger, J. & Jacobs, A. (Eds.), Localist Connectionist Approaches to Human Cognition (pp. 189225). Mahwah, NJ, US: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
Dirix, N., Cop, U., Drieghe, D., & Duyck, W. (2017). Cross-lingual neighborhood effects in generalized lexical decision and natural reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 43, 887915.Google ScholarPubMed
Duyck, W., van Assche, E., Drieghe, D., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2007). Visual word recognition by bilinguals in a sentence context: evidence for nonselective lexical access. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33, 663679.Google Scholar
Gazzaniga, M. S. (Ed.). (2014). Handbook of cognitive neuroscience. Washington, DC: Dana Press.Google Scholar
Green, D. W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 515530.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hervais-Adelman, A. G., Moser-Mercer, B., & Golestani, N. (2011). Executive control of language in the bilingual brain: Integrating the evidence from neuroimaging to neuropsychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 234.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hoenig, K., & Scheef, L. (2009). Neural correlates of semantic ambiguity processing during context verification. NeuroImage, 45, 10091019.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hosoda, C., Hanakawa, T., Nariai, T., Ohno, K., & Honda, M. (2012). Neural mechanisms of language switch. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 25, 4461.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hoversten, L. J., & Traxler, M. J. (2016). A time course analysis of interlingual homograph processing: Evidence from eye movements. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 347360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hsieh, M. C., Jeong, H., Kawata, K. H. D. S., Sasaki, Y., Lee, H. C., Yokoyama, S., … & Kawashima, R. (2017). Neural correlates of bilingual language control during interlingual homograph processing in a logogram writing system. Brain and Language, 174, 7285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ketteler, D., Kastrau, F., Vohn, R., & Huber, W. (2008). The subcortical role of language processing. High level linguistic features such as ambiguity-resolution and the human brain: An fMRI study. NeuroImage, 39, 20022009.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Klein, D., Zatorre, R. J., Chen, J. K., Milner, B., Crane, J., Belin, P., & Bouffard, M. (2006). Bilingual brain organization: A functional magnetic resonance adaptation study. NeuroImage, 31, 366375.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Klepousniotou, E., Gracco, V. L., & Pike, G. B. (2014). Pathways to lexical ambiguity: fMRI evidence for bilateral fronto-parietal involvement in language processing. Brain and Language, 131, 5664.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kroll, J. F., Dussias, P. E., Bice, K., & Perrotti, L. (2015). Bilingualism, mind, and brain. Annual Review of Linguistics, 1, 377394.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kroll, J. F., Gullifer, J., & Zirnstein, M. (2016). Literacy in adulthood: Reading in two languages. In Nicoladis, E., & Montanari, S. (Eds.), Lifespan perspectives on bilingualism (pp. 225245). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
Kroll, J. F., & Ma, F. (2018). The bilingual lexicon. In Fernández, E. M. & Cairns, H. S. (Eds.), The handbook of psycholinguistics (pp. 294319). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
Lauro, J., & Schwartz, A. I. (2017). Bilingual non-selective lexical access in sentence contexts: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Memory and Language, 92, 217233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lemhöfer, K., Huestegge, L., & Mulder, K. (2018). Another cup of TEE? The processing of second language near-cognates in first language reading. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 33, 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Libben, M. R., & Titone, D. A. (2009). Bilingual lexical access in context: evidence from eye movements during reading. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 381390.Google ScholarPubMed
Liversedge, S., Gilchrist, I., & Everling, S. (Eds.). (2011). The Oxford handbook of eye movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Luck, S. J. (2014). An introduction to the event-related potential technique. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Macizo, P., Bajo, T., & Martín, M. C. (2010). Inhibitory processes in bilingual language comprehension: Evidence from Spanish–English interlexical homographs. Journal of Memory and Language, 63, 232244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mason, R. A., & Just, M. A. (2007). Lexical ambiguity in sentence comprehension. Brain Research, 1146, 115127.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Norman, D. A., & Shallice, T. (1986). Attention to action: Willed and automatic control of behaviour. In Davidson, R. J., Schwartz, G. E., & Shapiro, D. (Eds.), Consciousness and Self-Regulation (pp. 118). Boston, MA: Springer.Google Scholar
Novick, J. M., Trueswell, J. C., & Thompson-Schill, S. L. (2005). Cognitive control and parsing: Reexamining the role of Broca’s area in sentence comprehension. Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, 5, 263281.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pivneva, I., Mercier, J., & Titone, D. (2014). Executive control modulates cross-language lexical activation during L2 reading: Evidence from eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40, 787796.Google ScholarPubMed
Pliatsikas, C., & Luk, G. (2016). Executive control in bilinguals: A concise review on fMRI studies. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 699705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rayner, K. (1998). Eye movements in reading and information processing: 20 years of research. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 372422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rayner, K. (2009). Eye movements and attention in reading, scene perception, and visual search. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 14571506.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rayner, K., Pacht, J. M., & Duffy, S. A. (1994). Effects of prior encounter and global discourse bias on the processing of lexically ambiguous words: Evidence from eye fixations. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 527544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rayner, K., Pollatsek, A., Ashby, J., & Clifton, C.E. (2012). The psychology of reading. New York: Psychology Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rodd, J. M., Davis, M. H., & Johnsrude, I. S. (2005). The neural mechanisms of speech comprehension: fMRI studies of semantic ambiguity. Cerebral Cortex, 15, 12611269.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rodd, J. M., Longe, O. A., Randall, B., & Tyler, L. K. (2010). The functional organisation of the fronto-temporal language system: Evidence from syntactic and semantic ambiguity. Neuropsychologia, 48, 13241335.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Arêas da Luz Fontes, A. B., & Schwartz, A. I. (2015). Bilingual access of homonym meanings: Individual differences in bilingual access of homonym meanings. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 18, 639656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Seo, R., Stocco, A., & Prat, C. S. (2018). The bilingual language network: Differential involvement of anterior cingulate, basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex in preparation, monitoring, and execution. NeuroImage, 174, 4456.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Thompson-Schill, S. L., D’Esposito, M., Aguirre, G. K., & Farah, M. J. (1997). Role of left inferior prefrontal cortex in retrieval of semantic knowledge: A reevaluation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 94, 1479214797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Titone, D., Libben, M., Mercier, J., Whitford, V., & Pivneva, I. (2011). Bilingual lexical access during L1 sentence reading: The effects of L2 knowledge, semantic constraint, and L1–L2 intermixing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37, 14121431.Google ScholarPubMed
Titone, D., Whitford, V., Lijewska, A., & Itzhak, I. (2016). Bilingualism, executive control, and eye movement measures of reading: A selective review and reanalysis of bilingual vs. multilingual reading data. In Schwieter, J. (Ed.), Cognitive control and consequences in the multilingual mind (pp. 1146). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
van Assche, E., Drieghe, D., Duyck, W., Welvaert, M., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2011). The influence of semantic constraints on bilingual word recognition during sentence reading. Journal of Memory and Language, 64, 88107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
van Assche, E., Duyck, W., & Hartsuiker, R. J. (2012). Bilingual word recognition in a sentence context. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 174.Google Scholar
van Assche, E., Duyck, W., Hartsuiker, R. J., & Diependaele, K. (2009). Does bilingualism change native-language reading? Cognate effects in a sentence context. Psychological Science, 20, 923927.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
van de Putte, E., De Baene, W., Brass, M., & Duyck, W. (2017). Neural overlap of L1 and L2 semantic representations in speech: A decoding approach. NeuroImage, 162, 106116.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Vitello, S., & Rodd, J. M. (2015). Resolving semantic ambiguities in sentences: Cognitive processes and brain mechanisms. Language and Linguistics Compass, 9, 391405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wang, Y., Kuhl, P. K., Chen, C., & Dong, Q. (2009). Sustained and transient language control in the bilingual brain. NeuroImage, 47, 414422.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Whitford, V., & Titone, D. (2019). Lexical entrenchment and cross-language activation: Two sides of the same coin for bilingual reading across the adult lifespan. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 22, 5877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whitford, V., Pivneva, I., & Titone, D. (2016). Eye movement methods to investigate bilingual reading. In Heredia, R. R., Altarriba, J., & Cieślicka, A. B. (Eds.), Methods in bilingual reading comprehension research (pp. 183212). New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zou, L., Ding, G., Abutalebi, J., Shu, H., & Peng, D. (2012). Structural plasticity of the left caudate in bimodal bilinguals. Cortex, 48, 11971206.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

Send book to Kindle

To send this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Send book to Dropbox

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Available formats