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Communicative relevance: Color references in bilingual and trilingual speakers*



The study examined granularity of lexical partitioning of the blue area in speakers of English, which encodes the term blue; Russian, which encodes two terms, sinij [dark/navy blue] and goluboj [light/sky blue]; and Ukrainian, which encodes the terms synij [dark/navy blue] and blakytnyj and golubyj [light/sky blue]. Five groups of participants took part in the study: (1) 30 L1 speakers of English, (2) 30 L1 speakers of Russian, (3) 30 Russian–English bilinguals, (4) 30 English–Russian bilinguals, and (5) 25 Ukrainian–Russian–English trilinguals. Quantitative and qualitative analyses revealed that L1 Russian speakers referred to different types of blue significantly more frequently than all other groups, while bilinguals patterned with L1 English speakers. These findings suggest that classroom exposure to L2 Russian does not make the distinction between sinij and goluboj communicatively relevant for L1 English speakers and that everyday use of L2 English may trigger attrition of the contrast in L1 Russian.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Dr. Aneta Pavlenko, Professor of Applied Linguistics, Department of Teaching and Learning, College of Education, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122


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The authors are deeply grateful to Drs. Nina Vyatkina and Victoria Driagina-Hasko for their help with data collection and to anonymous peer-reviewers for insightful comments that greatly improved the quality of the final version of the manuscript. All remaining errors and inconsistencies are exclusively ours.



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