Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Jared, Debra


A challenge for bilinguals is that translation equivalent words often do not convey exactly the same conceptual information. A bilingual exhibits a “semantic accent” when they comprehend or use a word in one language in a way that is influenced by knowledge of its translation equivalent. Semantic accents are well-captured by feature-based models, such as the Distributed Conceptual Feature model and the Shared (Distributed) Asymmetrical model, however, few empirical studies have used semantic features to provide direct evidence for these models. The goal of this thesis is to use a feature-based approach to identify conceptual differences in translation equivalent words and to investigate how word meanings are activated in sequential Japanese-English bilinguals in their L1 and L2. In Chapter 2, I collected feature norms from Canadian English speakers and Japanese speakers for translation equivalent words to identify whether conceptual differences can be detected from a feature production task. Based on a cross-language comparison of the two feature norms, differences were identified in both global (i.e., the overall proportion of production frequency for different knowledge type) and individual feature levels (i.e., language-specific features). These findings suggest that a feature-based approach is useful to identify conceptual differences in translation equivalent words. In Chapter 3, I used language-specific semantic features (e.g., “is yellow” for the word BUS) to investigate whether language-specific conceptual information is activated differently (1) between bilinguals and monolinguals, (2) depending on the task of the language (L1 vs L2) within bilinguals, and (3) depending on bilinguals’ individual differences including L2 proficiency and the extent of L2 cultural immersion. Both explicit and implicit behavioural tasks were used to explore how bilinguals access language-specific conceptual information when they are processing words in their L1 and L2. The comparison between bilinguals and monolinguals revealed that bilinguals exhibit semantic accents in both of their L1 and L2. The comparison between L1 and L2 tasks within bilinguals revealed that language-specific features were activated at different strengths depending on the language of the task. Finally, the results suggest that the nature of accents depended more on the extent of L2 cultural immersion rather than L2 proficiency.