Processing New Words: A Look Into Bimodal Bilinguals

Victoria Toregrossa, Hia Datta

Approximately half of the world’s population is proficient in at least two languages (Grosjean, 2021) and use them in their day to day interactions but despite this, the field of bilingualism is relatively young and little research has been done on the topic (Byers-Heinlein & Lew-Williams, 2013) compared to that on monolingual speakers of English. More specifically, one understudied area pertains to bilinguals who utilize more than one modality for language, (Reynolds, 2016) who are referred to as being bimodal. Little information has been accumulated about how bilingual signers learn their languages (Scott & Hoffmeister, 2018). For example, existing research on spoken languages suggests that bilingual children primarily refer to the social context while monolinguals typically refer to the physical properties of an object when learning new words (Rosenblum & Pinker, 1983; Healey & Skarabela, 2008; Verhagen et al., 2017) however, it is not known whether bimodals also learn new words in this manner. The present study investigates whether there is a difference in how adult monolingual (spoken) English users differ from adult bimodals in how they acquire new spoken nonsense words. More specifically, the focus will be on the types of cues bimodals attend to best when presented with novel objects attributed with nonsense names compared to unimodals and monolinguals via video. The independent variables consist of the bimodals (CODAs with verbal and signed modalities), unimodal bilinguals (L1X-L2Engwith verbal modality), monolinguals (verbal English only), and the cues including object cues, pragmatic cues, and the object-pragmatic cues. Object-only cues pertain to an object’s physical attributes, (e.g. size, shape, color) while pragmatic-only cues are meaningful in social contexts when communicating with others (e.g. gesturing, eye gaze, body language). Lastly, object-pragmatic cues are both cues presented simultaneously. The dependent variables consist of the accuracy of the responses and the reaction times for the participants’ responses. Furthermore, two different conditions will be present when introducing the nonsense labels with the novel objects: a congruent condition and an incongruent condition. In the congruent condition, both the object and pragmatic cues will match when referring to the stimuli while they will not match in the incongruent condition. Another area of investigation examines if the physical appearance of the objects play a role in the participant’s remembrance of them. Pascalis et. al (2011) states most researchers agree that “…adults are experts in face processing and their ability to process faces is tuned by their experience”. Half of the stimuli will be animate (will have a face) while the resr will be inanimate. According to Pascalis et. al (2011), most researchers agree that “…adults are experts in face processing and their ability to process faces is tuned by their experience”. Thus, the second hypothesis is that the majority of the participants will have an easier time labelling the nonsense name with the nonsense objects that are animate.This presentation discusses the results of what cues the bimodals attend to most when learning nonsense words attributed to novel objects which contributes to teaching techniques for bilinguals of ASL.