Processing hyponymy in L1 and L2

Document Type

Journal Article


Plenum Publishing


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences


School of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences




Sharifian, F. (2002). Processing hyponymy in L1 and L2. Journal of psycholinguistic research, 31(4), 421-436. Available here


This study examined the processing of hyponymy in L1 and two levels of performance (overall and high proficiency) in L2 in a group of Persian-English bilinguals. In two experiments, the same participants detected semantic relation in hyponymy pairs (i.e., hyponym-superordinate vs. superordinate-hyponym) in L1 (experiment 1) and L2 (experiment 2). The variables of pair type, stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA), language, and language proficiency were manipulated. Overall, the results showed that participants' median RTs and SDs were significantly greater in L2. This suggests that L2 processing in unbalanced bilinguals is less automatic than L1 processing. The findings of experiment 2 with the higher proficiency group showed a trend toward performance in L1 and therefore confirmed the prediction of the hierarchical model of bilingual memory that lexical processes in more-fluent bilinguals approximate those of L1 speakers. The results of the two experiments also showed that participants were significantly faster when presented with superordinate-hyponym word pairs than with hyponym-superordinate word pairs at 100-ms SOA in both L1 and L2 conditions. The results at 200-ms SOA, however, showed an opposite trend, although the results with L2 did not reach significance. This trend of results points to a possibility of automatic vs. strategic processing in the sense that participants' processing of hyponymy relation was more strategic than automatic at 200-ms SOA.





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