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The time course of cross-language activation in deaf ASL–English bilinguals*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico, USA NSF Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2)
Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico, USA NSF Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2)
Department of World Languages and Cultures, Gallaudet University, USA NSF Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2)
Department of Linguistics, University of Manitoba, Canada NSF Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2)
Department of Psychology, Pennsylvania State University, USA NSF Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2)
Address for correspondence: Jill P. Morford, Department of Linguistics, MSC03 2130, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-0001,


What is the time course of cross-language activation in deaf sign–print bilinguals? Prior studies demonstrating cross-language activation in deaf bilinguals used paradigms that would allow strategic or conscious translation. This study investigates whether cross-language activation can be eliminated by reducing the time available for lexical processing. Deaf ASL–English bilinguals and hearing English monolinguals viewed pairs of English words and judged their semantic similarity. Half of the stimuli had phonologically related translations in ASL, but participants saw only English words. We replicated prior findings of cross-language activation despite the introduction of a much faster rate of presentation. Further, the deaf bilinguals were as fast or faster than hearing monolinguals despite the fact that the task was in their second language. The results allow us to rule out the possibility that deaf ASL–English bilinguals only activate ASL phonological forms when given ample time for strategic or conscious translation across their two languages.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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We would like to thank the participants of our research, as well as Selina Agyen, Benjamin Anible, Richard Bailey, Brian Burns, Yunjae Hwang, Teri Jaquez, Carla Ring, and Paul Twitchell for help in programming, data collection, coding and analysis. Portions of this study were presented at the 11th Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research Conference in London, England. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center Program, under cooperative agreement numbers SBE-0541953 and SBE-1041725. The writing of this article was also supported in part by NIH Grant HD053146 and NSF Grants BCS-0955090 and OISE-0968369 to Judith F. Kroll. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation.


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