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Shared and separate meanings in the bilingual mental lexicon

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 November 2005

Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China
Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China
Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University


This paper proposes a shared, distributed, asymmetrical model for the bilingual mental lexicon. To test the sharing of conceptual relations across translation equivalents, Experiment 1 used the classical priming paradigm with specific methodological innovations, trying to satisfy various constraints that had not been addressed in previous studies. The results suggest shared storage for the conceptual representations of the bilingual's two vocabularies and asymmetrical links between concepts and lexical names in the two languages. Experiment 2 examined the details of meaning separation by eliciting semantic closeness rankings for conceptual relations that are equivalent across language translations and those that are not. The results indicate that bilinguals tend to integrate conceptual differences between translation equivalents, but that they also display a “separatist” tendency to maintain the L1 conceptual system in the representation of L1 words and to adopt the L2 conceptual system in the representation of L2 words.

Research articles
Cambridge University Press 2005

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This research was supported by grants 02JAZJD40022 and 01JC740001 from the Eduation Ministry of China. We would like to thank Wido La Heij and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript.