Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Debra Jared


The linguistic relativity hypothesis (Whorf, 1956) claims that speakers of different languages perceive and conceptualize the world differently. Language-thought interaction is likely to be more complex in bilinguals because they have two languages that could influence their cognitive and perceptual processes.Lupyan’s (2012) Label-feedback Hypothesis proposes a mechanism underpinning language-thought interactions, arguingthat linguistic labels affect our conceptual and perceptual representations through top-down feedback.This thesis tested the Label-feedback Hypothesis by capitalizing on an interesting feature of Chinese. In English, most nouns do not provide linguistic clues to their categories (an exception issunflower), whereas in Chinese, some nouns provide explicit category information morphologically (e.g., ostrichand robinhave the morpheme bird embedded in their Chinese names), while some nouns do not (e.g., penguin and pigeon). In Chapter 2, I investigated the effects of Chinese word structure on bilinguals’ categorization processes in either a Chinese or English-speaking environment with ERP. Chinese-English bilinguals and English monolinguals judged the membership of atypical (e.g., ostrich, penguin) vs. typical (e.g., robin,pigeon) pictorial and word exemplars of various categories (e.g., bird). Half of the exemplars in each group had a category clue in their Chinese name and half did not. English monolinguals showed typicality effects in categorization RT data, the N300 and N400 of ERP data, regardless of whether the object name had a category clue in Chinese. In contrast, Chinese-English bilinguals showed a larger typicality effect for objects without category clues in their name (e.g., penguin, pigeon) than objects with clues (e.g., ostrich, robin), even when Chinese-English bilinguals were tested in English. These results demonstrate that linguistic information embedded in object names has an effect on people’s categorization processes. Furthermore, linguistic information in bilinguals’ L1 has an effect on their categorization processes even when they are using their L2. In Chapter 3, I investigated the effects of Chinese word structure on bilinguals’ object perception. A visual oddball detection task with ERP was used where pictures of four birds (robin, ostrich, pigeon, and penguin) were used as standards and deviants. In Chinese-English bilinguals that have lived in Canada for a short period of time, the visual mismatch negativity (vMMN) elicited by deviant stimuli was larger for pairs without category clues (pigeon-penguin) than pairs with clues (robin-ostrich). In contrast, long-stay bilinguals and English monolinguals showed similar vMMN for the two pairs. These results demonstrate that linguistic information embedded in object names affects people’s object perception. The influences of L1 word structure on object perception diminish as bilinguals live in the L2 country for a longer time.