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Effects of the grammatical representation of number on cognition in bilinguals



Research investigating the relationship between language and cognition (Lucy, 1992b) shows that speakers of languages with grammatical number marking (e.g. English) judge differences in the number of countable objects as more significant than differences in the number or amount of non-countable substances. On the other hand, speakers of languages which lack grammatical number marking (e.g. Yucatec) show no such preference. The current paper extends Lucy's (1992b) investigation, comparing monolingual English and Japanese speakers with Japanese speakers of English as a second language (L2). Like Yucatec, Japanese is a non-plural-marking language. Results show that intermediate L2 speakers behave similarly to the Japanese monolinguals while advanced L2 speakers behave similarly to the English monolinguals. The results (a) provide support for the claim that grammatical representation may influence cognition in specific ways and (b) suggest that L2 acquisition may alter cognitive dispositions established by a first language (L1).


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Address for correspondence Department of Language and Linguistics, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK E-mail:


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This research was supported by a postgraduate studentship awarded to the author by the Economic & Social Research Council, ESRC award number PTA-030-2002-01335. The fieldwork trip to Japan was supported by the Sir Eric Berthoud Travel Grant, awarded to the author by the University of Essex. The author wishes to express his gratitude to Professor Roger Hawkins for his helpful guidance throughout, to Dr David Green and two reviewers for Bilingualism: Language and Cognition for their constructive comments, and to Dr Shigenori Wakabayashi and his students at Gunma Prefectural Women's University, who provided invaluable resources and help during the data collection in Japan. Parts of this paper have been previously presented at the Second Language Acquisition Discussion Group at the University of Essex, at Looking at Language Acquisition IV at Cambridge University, at the departmental seminar of the Department of English Literature at Gunma Prefectural Women's University in Japan, at the 13th EUROSLA Conference in Edinburgh, and at the Mitteleuropa Seminar on Bi- and Multilingualism and Cognition in Italy. The author wishes to thank the audiences of these events for their helpful comments and suggestions. Any faults that remain are entirely my own.


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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
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