Previous research suggests that bilingual comprehenders access lexical representations of words in both languages nonselectively. However, it is unclear whether global language suppression plays a role in guiding attention to target language representations during ongoing lexico-semantic processing. To help clarify this issue, this study examined the relative timing of language membership and meaning activation during visual word recognition. Spanish–English bilinguals performed simultaneous semantic and language membership classification tasks on single words during EEG recording. Go/no-go ERP latencies provided evidence that language membership information was accessed before semantic information. Furthermore, N400 frequency effects indicated that the depth of processing of words in the nontarget language was reduced compared to the target language. These results suggest that the bilingual brain can rapidly identify the language to which a word belongs and subsequently use this information to selectively modulate the degree of processing in each language accordingly.

You do not currently have access to this content.