Getting your wires crossed: Evidence for fast processing of L1 idioms in an L2

Gareth Carrol, Kathy Conklin

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27 Citations (Scopus)
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Monolingual speakers show priming for idiomatic sequences (e.g. a pain in the neck) relative to matched controls (e.g. a pain in the foot); single word translation equivalents show cross-language activation (e.g. dog–chien) for bilinguals. If the lexicon is heteromorphic (Wray, 2002), larger units may show cross-language priming in the same way as single words. We used the
initial words of English idioms (e.g. to spill the . . . beans) and transliterated Chinese idioms (e.g. draw a snake and add . . . feet) as primes for the final words in a lexical decision task with high proficiency Chinese–English bilinguals and English monolinguals. Bilinguals responded to targets significantly faster when they completed a Chinese idiom (e.g. feet) than when they were presented with a matched control word (e.g. hair). The results are discussed in terms of conceptual activation and lexical translation processes, and are also incorporated into a dual route model of formulaic and novel language processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)784-797
JournalBilingualism: Language and Cognition
Issue number4
Early online date4 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014


  • dual route processing
  • idioms
  • formulaic language
  • fast automatic translation
  • bilingualism


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