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Thinking-for-speaking in early and late bilinguals*



When speakers describe motion events using different languages, they subsequently classify those events in language-specific ways (Gennari, Sloman, Malt & Fitch, 2002). Here we ask if bilingual speakers flexibly shift their event classification preferences based on the language in which they verbally encode those events. English–Spanish bilinguals and monolingual controls described motion events in either Spanish or English. Subsequently they judged the similarity of the motion events in a triad task. Bilinguals tested in Spanish and Spanish monolinguals were more likely to make similarity judgments based on the path of motion versus bilinguals tested in English and English monolinguals. The effect is modulated in bilinguals by the age of acquisition of the second language. Late bilinguals based their judgments on path more often when Spanish was used to describe the motion events versus English. Early bilinguals had a path preference independent of the language in use. These findings support “thinking-for-speaking” (Slobin, 1996) in late bilinguals.


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Address for correspondence: Vicky Tzuyin Lai, P.O. Box 310, 6500 AH, Nijmegen, The


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We would like to thank Lila Saade, Anwen Fredriksen, Cecily Jill Duffield, Charles Lowe, and Meghan Damour for help with data collection and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.



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Thinking-for-speaking in early and late bilinguals*



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