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What colour is 赤? Investigating cognitive control in multi-script bilinguals

Santa Vīnerte (University of Ottawa) & Laura Sabourin (University of Ottawa)


Bilingual cognitive control; multi-script bilingualism; logograph processing; Japanese; Stroop task

A growing body of literature suggests that bilingualism affects both our linguistic abilities and our general cognitive abilities. To manage two languages, bilinguals must use cognitive control skills such as attention, inhibition, and task-switching to block one language while using the other. Consequently, there may be general improvement of these skills due to their extensive use in language control. Indeed, previous studies report cognitive control advantages for bilinguals in both linguistic and non-linguistic tasks. The current study investigates whether these advantages are modulated by bilinguals’ knowledge and use of multiple writing systems.

There is evidence for a bilingual advantage for older bilinguals1, more proficient and balanced bilinguals2, and bilinguals who had acquired both languages early in life3, but it is only recently that the bilingual context has been implicated4;it has been suggested that control processes themselves adapt to language environment demands5. The language environment for bilinguals is formed by not only the words heard and spoken, but also by the words read and written. While much research has been done on languages that both use the same script (e.g. alphabet for both English and French), fewer studies have examined cases where one language uses an alphabetic (sound-based) script and the other uses a logographic (semantic-based) script. In the current study, we examine English-Japanese bilinguals and ask 1) Does experience with multiple scripts in the environment modulate cognitive control abilities? and 2) Is the age of acquisition of a logographic scrip a further factor?

We will present pilot data from English-Japanese bilingual participants who completed two experiments: the first examines linguistic processing using a bilingual Stroop task in which English and Japanese colour terms appear in congruent and incongruent conditions. Crucially, we use only kanji logographs to indicate colour terms in our study. The second experiment examines non-linguistic processing using the ANT task in which sets of arrows appear with the central target in either a congruent or incongruent condition. Accuracy and reaction times are recorded and analysed

Japanese logographs have shown considerable semantic interference effects6, and increased naming latencies in cognitive control tasks such as the Stroop test7 compared to alphabetic languages. Following the Dual Route Cascaded model of visual word processing8, we hypothesize different cognitive advantages for alphabetic-logographic bilinguals based on differences in lexical access of each script. We will discuss our preliminary results in light of this model and the idea that the bilingual cognitive control advantage comes about as a result of experience in managing and allocating limited cognitive resources.



[1] Bialystok, E., Craik, F., & Luk, G. (2008). Cognitive control and lexical access in younger and older bilinguals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34 (4), 859-873.

[2] Zied, K.M., Philippe, A., Pinon, K., Havet-Thomassin, V., Ghislaine, A., Roy, A., & Le Gall, D. (2004). Bilingualism and adult differences in inhibitory mechanisms: Evidence from a bilingual Stroop task. Brain and Cognition, 54, 254-256.

[3] Tao, L., Marzecová, A., Taft, M., Asanowicz, D., & Wodniecka, Z. (2011). The efficiency of attentional networks in early and late bilinguals: The role of age of acquisition. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-19.

[4] Wu, Y.J., & Thierry, G. (2013). Fast modulation of executive function by language context in bilinguals. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(33), 13533-13537.

[5] Green, D.W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: the adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25(5), 515-530.

[6] Verdenschot, R.G., La Heij, W., Paolieri, D., Zhang, Q., & Schiller, N.O. (2011). Homophonic context effects when naming Japanese kanji: evidence for processing costs. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(9), 1836-1849.

[7] Fang, S., Ovid, J.L.T., Alva, L. (1981). Intralanguage vs. interlanguage Stroop effects in two types of writing systems. Memory and Cognition, 9 (6), 609-617.

[8] Colheart, M., Rastle, K., Perry, C., Langdon, R., & Ziegler, J.C. (2001). DRC: A dual route cascading model of visual word recognition and reading aloud. Psychological Review, 108, 204-256.