Publication Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Psychology (MS)

Committee Chair

Heredia, Roberto R.


These studies examine the comprehension of idiomatic expressions by bilingual speakers. The purpose of this study was to look at the (re)activation of the meaning (literal vs. figurative) of idiomatic expressions by bilinguals. Spanish-dominant, English-dominant, and balanced bilinguals listened to English sentences containing idiomatic expressions of the type, “I’m not one to make a scene, but after he yelled at me, that was impossible to avoid.” Participants made lexical decisions to critical targets that were literally (e.g., “play”), figuratively (e.g., “disturbance”), and unrelated (i.e., controls) to the critical idiomatic expressions. For experiment 1, critical targets were presented immediately at idiom offset (0ms), and immediately after a pronoun anaphor (e.g., this, that, it). The purpose of experiment 2 was to further investigate idiom meaning (re)activation. In this experiment, critical targets were presented at idiom onset (before idiom) and 300ms after anaphor offset. Analyses were conducted for all independent variables (language dominance: Spanish vs. English vs. Balance, cue: 1 vs. 2 or pre-cue vs. 3, relatedness: related vs. unrelated, and figurativeness: literal vs. figurative) by the dependent variable (reaction time). Results revealed that idiom meaning (re)activation was modulated by language dominance, where English-dominant bilinguals had significantly faster responses than both Spanish-dominant and balanced bilinguals. Overall, there was a general tendency for literal meanings of idioms to be more active in all bilinguals, as revealed by faster reaction times. Results support the Literal Salient Model (Cieślicka, 2006a; 2006b; Heredia & Cieślicka, 2016; Heredia & Muñoz, 2015).