Task effects in bilingual idiom comprehension

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Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics


The purpose of the experiments reported here is to explore the effects of task (implicit vs. explicit) on the activation of literal and figurative meanings of English idiomatic expressions in the course of their processing by Spanish-English bilinguals varying along their dominance in English or Spanish. Two experiments were carried out using a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task: an implicit lexical decision task and an explicit meaningfulness judgment task. Stimuli included literally plausible English idioms (e.g. kick the bucket, which has both a figurative meaning - 'to die', and a literal interpretation - 'to strike a pail with one's foot'). Mixed Linear Model analyses were conducted on the lexical decision and meaningfulness judgment data, with context (literal vs. figurative vs. control) and target type (literal vs. figurative) as within-subject factors, and bilingual dominance (Spanish-dominant vs. English-dominant) as a between-subject factor. Results showed strong salience effects in the implicit task and strong context effects in the explicit task. Specifically, only literal target activation was found for Spanish-dominant participants in the implicit, lexical decision task, as opposed to English-dominant participants, where both literal and figurative meanings were equally strongly activated. In the explicit, meaningfulness judgment task, regardless of language dominance, congruent targets (both literal-congruent and figurative-congruent) were recognized faster than incongruent ones, both by English- and Spanish-dominant participants.

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