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Verb representation and thinking-for-speaking effects in Spanish-English bilinguals

Lai, V. T., & Narasimhan, B. (2015). Verb representation and thinking-for-speaking effects in Spanish-English bilinguals. In R. G. De Almeida, & C. Manouilidou (Eds.), Cognitive science perspectives on verb representation and processing (pp. 235-256). Cham: Springer.
Speakers of English habitually encode motion events using manner-of-motion verbs (e.g., spin, roll, slide) whereas Spanish speakers rely on path-of-motion verbs (e.g., enter, exit, approach). Here, we ask whether the language-specific verb representations used in encoding motion events induce different modes of “thinking-for-speaking” in Spanish–English bilinguals. That is, assuming that the verb encodes the most salient information in the clause, do bilinguals find the path of motion to be more salient than manner of motion if they had previously described the motion event using Spanish versus English? In our study, Spanish–English bilinguals described a set of target motion events in either English or Spanish and then participated in a nonlinguistic similarity judgment task in which they viewed the target motion events individually (e.g., a ball rolling into a cave) followed by two variants a “same-path” variant such as a ball sliding into a cave or a “same-manner” variant such as a ball rolling away from a cave). Participants had to select one of the two variants that they judged to be more similar to the target event: The event that shared the same path of motion as the target versus the one that shared the same manner of motion. Our findings show that bilingual speakers were more likely to classify two motion events as being similar if they shared the same path of motion and if they had previously described the target motion events in Spanish versus in English. Our study provides further evidence for the “thinking-for-speaking” hypothesis by demonstrating that bilingual speakers can flexibly shift between language-specific construals of the same event “on-the-fly.”
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