Skip to main content Accessibility help

Modality effects in language switching: Evidence for a bimodal advantage



In language switching, it is assumed that in order to produce a response in one language, the other language must be inhibited. In unimodal (spoken-spoken) language switching, the fact that the languages share the same primary output channel (the mouth) means that only one language can be produced at a time. In bimodal (spoken-signed) language switching, however, it is possible to produce both languages simultaneously. In our study, we examined modality effects in language switching using multilingual subjects (speaking German, English, and German Sign Language). Focusing on German vocal responses, since they are directly compatible across conditions, we found shorter reaction times, lower error rates, and smaller switch costs in bimodal vs. unimodal switching. This result suggests that there are different inhibitory mechanisms at work in unimodal and bimodal language switching. We propose that lexical inhibition is involved in unimodal switching, whereas output channel inhibition is involved in bimodal switching.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Emily Kaufmann, Pedagogy and Rehabilitation of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, University of Cologne, Klosterstrasse 79b, 50931 Koeln, Germany


Hide All

*This research was funded in part by the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal and State Governments.



Hide All
Arrington, C. M., Altmann, E. M., & Carr, T. H. (2003). Tasks of a feather flock together: Similarity effects in task switching. Memory & Cognition, 31, 781789.
Bobb, S., & Wodniecka, Z. (2013). Language switching in picture naming. What asymmetric switch costs (do not) tell us about inhibition in bilingual speech planning. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 568585.
Costa, A., & Caramazza, A. (1999). Is lexical selection in bilingual speech production language-specific? Further evidence from Spanish–English and English–Spanish bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 2, 231244.
Costa, A., & Santesteban, M. (2004). Lexical access in bilingual speech production: Evidence from language switching in highly proficient bilinguals and L2 learners. Journal of Memory and Language, 50, 491511.
Declerck, M., & Philipp, A. M. (2015). A review of control processes and their locus in language switching. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 22, 16301645.
Declerck, M., Thoma, A. M., Koch, I., & Philipp, A. M. (2015). Highly proficient bilinguals implement inhibition – Evidence from n-2 language repetition costs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 41, 19111916.
Emmorey, K., Borinstein, H. B., Thompson, R., & Gollan, T. H. (2008a). Bimodal bilingualism. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11, 4361.
Emmorey, K., Luk, G., Pyers, J. E., & Bialystok, E. (2008b). The source of enhanced cognitive control in bilinguals: Evidence from bimodal bilinguals. Psychological Science, 19, 12011206.
Emmorey, K., Giezen, M. R., & Gollan, T.H. (2016). Psycholinguistic, cognitive, and neural implications of bimodal bilingualism. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 223242.
Finkbeiner, M., & Caramazza, A. (2006). Lexical selection is not a competitive process: A reply to La Heij, Kuipers and Starreveld. Cortex, 42, 10321035.
Giezen, M. R., Blumenfeld, H. K., Shook, A., Marian, V., & Emmorey, K. (2015). Parallel language activation and inhibitory control in bimodal bilinguals. Cognition, 141, 925.
Gollan, T. H., Schotter, E. R., Gomez, J., Murillo, M., & Rayner, K. (2014). Multiple levels of bilingual language control: Evidence from language intrusions in reading aloud. Psychological Science, 25, 585595.
Green, D. W. (1986). Control, activation and resource: A framework and a model for the control of speech in bilinguals. Brain and Language, 27, 210223.
Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexico-semantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781.
Heikoop, K., Declerck, M., Los, S., & Koch, I. (2016). Dissociating language-switch costs from cue-switch costs in bilingual language switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 19, 921927.
Kaufmann, E., & Philipp, A. M. (2015). Language-switch costs and dual-response costs in bimodal bilingual language production. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition. Online First (2 December 2015). DOI: 10.1017/S1366728915000759
Koch, I., Gade, M., Schuch, S., & Philipp, A. M. (2010). The role of inhibition in task switching: A review. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17, 114.
Kroll, J. F., Bobb, S. C., Misra, M., & Guo, T. (2008). Language selection in bilingual speech: Evidence for inhibitory processes. Acta Psychologica, 128, 416430.
Kroll, J. F., Bobb, S. C., & Wodniecka, Z. (2006). Language selectivity is the exception, not the rule: Arguments against a fixed locus of language selection in bilingual speech. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9, 119135.
Meuter, R. F. I., & Allport, A. (1999). Bilingual language switching in naming: Asymmetrical costs of language selection. Journal of Memory and Language, 40, 2540.
Milroy, L., & Muysken, P. (1995). One speaker, two languages: Cross-disciplinary perspectives on code-switching. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Philipp, A. M., Gade, M., & Koch, I. (2007). Inhibitory processes in language switching: Evidence from switching language-defined response sets. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19, 395416.
Philipp, A. M., & Koch, I. (2009). Inhibition in language switching: What is inhibited when switching between languages in naming tasks? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 35, 11871195.
Philipp, A. M., & Koch, I. (2011). The role of response modalities in cognitive task representations. Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 7, 3138.
Szekely, A., Jacobsen, T., D'Amico, S., Devescovi, A., Andonova, E., Herron, D., Lu, C.C., Pechmann, T., Pléh, C., Wicha, N., Federmeier, K., Gerdjikova, I., Gutierrez, G., Hung, D., Hsu, J., Iyer, G., Kohnert, K., Mehotcheva, T., Orozco-Figueroa, A., Tzeng, A., Tzeng, O., Arévalo, A., Vargha, A., Butler, A. C., Buffington, R., & Bates, E. (2004). A new on-line resource for psycholinguistic studies. Journal of Memory and Language, 51, 247250.



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed