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Review of  The Bilingual Mental Lexicon

Reviewer: Matthew T. Carlson
Book Title: The Bilingual Mental Lexicon
Book Author: Aneta Pavlenko
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Issue Number: 20.4313

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EDITOR: Pavlenko, Aneta
TITLE: The Bilingual Mental Lexicon: Interdisciplinary Approaches
SERIES: Bilingual Education and Bilingualism
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2009

Matthew T. Carlson, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago

This volume is intended as an interdisciplinary overview of the state of the art
in bilingualism research, focusing on the lexicon. It will thus be particularly
useful to students and young researchers working in particular areas of
bilingualism, who are interested in situating their work within a larger context
of bilingualism research and in expanding their theoretical and methodological
repertoire. The scope is ambitious for a book less than 250 pages, but this
perhaps serves to highlight the diverse challenges faced by researchers working
on bilingualism, and it helps make the point that bilingualism requires a
diverse approach that views the phenomena under study through a variety of
theoretical and methodological lenses. The chapters are organized around a
particular set of questions or sub-phenomena of bilingualism, rather than around
a particular methodology, comprising neurolinguistic research (Meuter),
autobiographical memory (Schrauf), audio-visual integration (Marian), semantic
processing (Altarriba & Basnight-Brown), lexical transfer (Jarvis), conceptual
representation (Pavlenko), gesture (Gullberg), the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon
(Ecke), and L1 attrition (Schmid & Köpke). Among these chapters there is a good
deal of methodological overlap (notwithstanding significant contrasts),
representing behavioral and reaction time experiments on formal and semantic
processing, neuroimaging and aphasia, eye tracking, crosslinguistic comparison,
narrative, gesture, and naturalistic data sampling. Lending a measure of unity
to such a diverse collection of chapters, many of the authors also tie their
reviews to significant models of bilingual lexical processing, e.g. the
Bilingual Interactive Activation model (BIA, BIA+; Dijkstra & Van Heuven, 2002),
the Revised Hierarchical Model (RHM; Kroll & Stewart, 1994), and the model of
Levelt et al. (1999).

Each chapter provides a well-rounded introduction to a particular subfield of
bilingualism research, and the book is edited in such a way that the chapters
have a roughly similar format. The individual chapter authors outline the
research questions relevant to their sub-area, which are in some cases quite
specific, and provide a review of the methodological approaches that have been
taken. The authors then present main findings from the subfield in question, and
point the way forward. This last part tends to focus on the future directions
most relevant for the particular subfield, rather than being an attempt to tie
each chapter into the larger volume.

The stated purpose of the volume is to outline the state of the art in a diverse
range of inquiry on bilingualism, and the chapters in general deliver on this
goal in a thorough and readable way. However, any compendium of this sort runs
the risk of leaving the reader a bit confused as to the larger picture, and in
this case more could have been done to help the reader make sense of the
multiple perspectives that are undoubtedly crucial to understanding a phenomenon
as complex as the use of multiple languages. The authors are unified in their
focus on the bilingual lexicon, but the strong focus on giving a thorough
picture of each sub-area leaves the chapters relatively independent from each
other. The book therefore has an interdisciplinary feel to it, rather than being
truly multidisciplinary, in the sense of integrating multiple perspectives into
a cohesive, compound approach. What would be most helpful would be a concluding
chapter dedicated to integrating the interdisciplinarity represented in the
chapters, helping the reader to sort out what is shared and what is distinct in
the view of the bilingual lexicon taken by each of the authors, and charting a
way forward from that integrated perspective. Such a view is foreshadowed in the
preface, entitled ''Time for new metaphors?'', which points to a unifying
principle, namely a dynamic view of the lexicon. While many of the authors
engage with this concept, a concluding chapter that takes a critical view of all
of the contributions, integrating and evaluating them in terms of this
overarching view as well as in light of each other, is notably lacking.

That said, by gathering such diverse approaches in one place this book does much
to illustrate the need for an integrated perspective. In selecting the specific
chapters, Pavlenko addresses the need for a concise review of current findings
and the theoretical models they have engendered, a description of the range of
methods available and how they have been implemented to explore specific
research questions, and fresh and innovative ways of thinking about the lexicon,
bilingualism, and cognition. The chapters by Meuter, Altarriba & Basnight-Brown,
and Jarvis all provide concise but thorough reviews of major, general areas of
inquiry. Altarriba & Basnight-Brown discuss work on semantic correspondence
between first (L1) and second (L2) language words, relying specifically on
semantic, translation, and cognate priming as well as categorization, naming,
and interference tasks such as the Stroop task. The chapter focuses on
integrating findings from this range of experimental work, but takes a
relatively uncritical stance towards what are admittedly very well-established
findings. Meuter discusses similar results, placing them within the larger frame
of questions regarding the selectivity of bilingual lexical access and control
in language selection, and provides ample discussion of several models of
bilingual lexical representation and processing. The primary thrust of this
chapter, however, is to argue for the use of electrophysiological and
neuroimaging techniques and the investigation of aphasia in bilinguals to shed
light on these questions. As such, this chapter is perhaps the most general,
presenting new techniques that may be adapted to work in a wide variety of
areas. Consistent with this goal, this relatively dense chapter crucially
emphasizes the need to understand these new techniques, and to exercise good
experimental design and controls, underscoring this point by describing a series
of conflicting and unclear findings from both behavioral and neuroscientific

The chapter by Jarvis focuses on lexical transfer, defining transfer broadly as
when one language affects the knowledge or processing of another. The chapter is
conceptually oriented, with minimal discussion of methods, which in many cases
are described more fully in other chapters anyway. Jarvis clarifies the
exposition by emphasizing a clear distinction between lexeme (mainly formal
characteristics of words) and lemma (semantic and syntactic information) level
transfer, as well as arguing for a separate conceptual level. While this brings
a measure of order to the literature, where these levels of representation are
often conflated to varying degrees, it also runs the danger of obscuring
relevant distinctions or of demarcating boundaries between different levels too
starkly. In particular, this chapter could have benefited from some discussion
of usage-based or emergentist views of the lexicon, in which boundaries between
levels are less distinct. The same could be said of the volume as a whole.
Particularly in light of the goal of working towards a dynamic view of the
bilingual lexicon, an emergentist or cognitive linguistics point of view might
help to integrate diverse areas of research and point the way forward (cf. the
recent Handbook by Robinson & Ellis, 2008).

Jarvis and Altarriba & Basnight-Brown set the stage for Pavlenko's own
contribution, in which she shifts the focus from links between words to the
structure of conceptual categories itself. This is the most integrative chapter
of the book. Taking the chapters by Meuter, Altarriba & Basnight-Brown, and
Jarvis as a point of departure, Pavlenko pulls apart the assumption that
stronger connections between words indicate shared meanings. This opens the way
to asking how conceptual representations overlap and contrast, and how these
representations evolve as an individual learns a new language. This is
reminiscent of work inspired by Slobin's notion of 'Thinking for Speaking'
(1996; discussed in Gullberg's chapter on gesture), but Pavlenko situates her
review in terms of models of how words and concepts in two languages are related
in the bilingual lexicon. Based on the observation that linguistic categories
between languages may be equivalent, partially equivalent, or non-equivalent,
Pavlenko argues for a Modified Hierarchical Model, which enriches the RHM of
Kroll & Stewart (1994) with these different types of conceptual structure and
with links for conceptual transfer between languages. This intuitive model
generates a wide variety of new questions about, e.g. interactions between
semantic and conceptual structure, implicit and explicit learning, speech
errors, and instruction. In this the chapter strongly points to fruitful areas
of future inquiry, and it also fleshes out one way in which the bilingual
lexicon may be viewed as dynamically evolving.

While Pavlenko enriches our view of conceptual structure, linking the bilingual
lexicon intimately to a bilingual's use of language in specific contextual
situations, the chapters by Schrauf, Marian, and Gullberg all open links between
language and other aspects of cognition. Schrauf grounds the mental lexicon
functionally by exploring its role in a higher-level cognitive phenomenon,
autobiographical memory. In particular, he explores the language specificity
effect, whereby bilinguals experience specific memories primarily in one
language or the other, and situates the discussion in a neurocognitive framework
in which meaning is distributed across sensory cortices and interacts with
lexicosemantic memory. Given the sparsity of research on this area, the chapter
provides an easy-to-follow introduction for linguists and psycholinguists
unfamiliar with this framework. The bulk of the discussion centers on the
psycholinguistic properties of words that may modulate the latency of recall,
the recency of the episode recalled, or other aspects of autobiographical memory
in a particular language, which is then exemplified in a study comparing how
bilinguals recalled episodes given either picture cues or word cues varying in
imageability and concreteness. This study showed a language specificity effect
for L2 memories but not for L1. While this area of research is young, it is
apparent that research on memory and the lexicon will be crucial to exploring
not only how language affects how memories are encoded and recalled, but also
how experience contributes to the development of linguistic categories.

Marian and Gullberg focus on how information is integrated across modalities in
lexical processing. Gullberg's contribution in particular demonstrates the
breadth of work brought together in this volume by exploring the relevance of
co-speech gesture to research on the bilingual lexicon, focusing particularly on
gesture's role in speech production. After providing readers with a necessary
and well-executed overview of gesture research methods and major theories,
Gullberg proceeds to describe how gesture changes our view of the lexicon,
aligning her argument with work that includes syntactic, constructional, and
conceptual information in the lexicon. The discussion of gestures standing in
for words is appropriately brief, leaving the way open for how investigating the
timing, form, and distribution of gesture-speech combinations provides a crucial
window on conceptual development in bilinguals, such as is discussed in
Pavlenko's chapter. By virtue of their imagistic and synthetic nature (McNeill,
2005), gestures provide a non-linear indication of what information is packaged
together into units. The discussion is somewhat limited by the dominance of
motion event descriptions in the literature on gesture, but this is not
necessarily detrimental to the argument here. Rather, cross-disciplinary
research using gesture to look at the bilingual lexicon may symbiotically reveal
new ways forward for gesture research as well.

This approach fits well within the multimodal view of processing elaborated by
Marian. Marian takes a broad view of the integration of audio-visual information
that includes not only speech, facial expression and gesture, but also the
visual environment, and even visual information not necessarily present, such as
knowledge of orthography. This makes the chapter feel a bit over-ambitious, but
Marian strikes a balance, drawing parallels between work on audio-visual
integration in lexical processing in particular visual environments (e.g. with
certain artifacts present in the visual field), and work that may more properly
pertain to the lexicon, i.e. the integration of phonological and orthographic
information in word processing. She discusses several models for understanding
this multimodal view of processing before settling on an adaptation of the
COHORT model (Marslen-Wilson, 1987). This chapter describes an emerging picture
of ''opportunistic'' (p. 58) processing that is multimodal by nature, but the
chapter struggles with an implicit tension between viewing this system as
fundamentally multimodal vs. examining how the visual modality (and orthography)
add to or build upon (auditory) linguistic processing. This tension is never
quite resolved, and appears particularly in the discussion of differences in
mono- and bilinguals' reliance on auditory and visual information, for example
in noisy listening situations. On the other hand, this tension itself may
provide an important way forward for research on multimodal processing.

The one chapter that struggles a bit to find its place in this volume is the
chapter by Ecke on tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states. The chapter builds on the
(not unproblematic) assumption that TOT states slow down lexical access, making
it more easily observable. The chapter provides a detailed overview of the
research questions traditionally associated with TOT research, including whether
access is blocked or activation is incomplete, whether speakers differ in their
susceptibility (as bilinguals are thought to do), and how TOTs are resolved. The
principal methods and findings of this work are then reviewed, with special
focus on the few findings on bi/multilinguals and L2 learners but also supplying
a broader view of monolingual TOT research that may be relevant to bilingualism
as well. The chapter is primarily given to a comprehensive and easy-to-follow
review of the past literature, and largely leaves it up to the reader to work
out how it contributes to the overall goals of the volume.

The final chapter, by Schmid and Köpke, addresses yet another area of
bilingualism research, that of L1 attrition and the lifelong evolution of the
bilingual lexicon. But it also provides a fitting close to the volume (in the
absence of a final, synthesizing chapter) by bringing the issue of dynamism in
the lexicon to the fore. This is at least in part due to tension in the
definition of attrition itself. In reviewing the findings, the authors focus on
adult immigrants, where L1 change can be most clearly labeled attrition.
Theoretically, they point to two principal factors contributing to attrition,
internal (structural influence of the L2 on the L1) and external (reduction in
L1 use/input), and restrict their definition of attrition to cases in which both
of these are operating. On the other hand, they describe a set of possible
interactions between L2 and L1 including borrowing, restructuring, convergence,
and shift, which they argue tend to enrich the L1 system, whereas cases of
attrition witness a simplification or shrinking of the L1 system. However, it is
unclear how to measure such simplification, and the text struggles between using
simplification or the confluence of internal and external factors to
characterize attrition. On the one hand the authors resist a deficit model of
bilingualism, in which the acquisition of a second language is accompanied by a
decrement in L1 competence, but on the other hand their portrayal of attrition
also seems to encompass the changes to L1 knowledge or use that begin with the
onset of bilingualism. It is thus unclear whether or how attrition might be
distinguished theoretically from the dynamic evolution of the mental lexicon
through the onset of bilingualism and subsequent evolution of an individual's
language use patterns; perhaps this dynamic is better thought of as a continuum,
with attrition describing one extreme, beyond some fuzzy threshold. The authors
give credence to this position when they say ''it is therefore possible that the
process of restructuring of the L1, which we perceive as attrition in long-term
immigrants, is a gradual one which starts...with the onset of bilingualism'' (p.
129). This suggests that it may be more fruitful to seek to understand how
language knowledge evolves throughout the lifespan and in response to various
types of experience, including bilingualism (see also Hall, Cheng, & Carlson,
2006), than to focus too much on distinguishing attrition from other aspects of
lifelong language development.

The instability and tension exemplified in this final chapter appears to certain
degrees in many chapters in this book, but rather than a weakness, it is a
necessary and desirable result of bringing together diverse areas of research,
in this case, work on crosslinguistic associations and influence and language
attrition. When work in one area is reviewed in light of other points of view,
theories and models are refined, and a way forward can be laid out. This volume
thus achieves its goal of bringing together an interdisciplinary collection of
research methods, theories, and findings among which new ideas and approaches
can be generated. In doing so, it builds a foundation for future,
cross-disciplinary work on bilingualism and the bilingual lexicon.

Dijkstra, T. & Van Heuven, W.J.B. (2002). The architecture of the bilingual word
recognition system: From identification to decision. Bilingualism: Language and
Cognition 5, 175-197.

Hall, J.K., Cheng. A. & Carlson, M.T. (2006). Reconceptualizing Multicompetence
as a Theory of Language Knowledge. Applied Linguistics 27 (2), 220-240.

Kroll, J. & Stewart, E. (1994). Category interference in translation and picture
naming: Evidence for asymmetric connection between bilingual memory
representations. Journal of Memory and Language 33 (2), 149-174.

Levelt, W., Roelofs, A. & Meyer, A. (1999). A theory of lexical access in speech
production. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22, 1-37.

Marslen-Wilson, W. (1987). Functional parallelism in spoken word recognition.
Cognition 25, 71-102.

McNeill, D. (2005). Gesture and Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Robinson, P. & Ellis, N.C. (2008). Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second
Language Acquisition. London: Routledge.

Slobin, D. (1996). From 'thought and language' to 'thinking for speaking'. In J.
Gumperz and S. Levinson (eds.). Rethinking Linguistic Relativity. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press. 70-96.

Dr. Carlson is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. His interests include emergent grammar in bilingualism and first language acquisition, phonology and morphology in the lexicon, and co-speech gesture.

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