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AIM OF THE STUDY: The ability to use multiple languages selectively is an impressive feat of the human information processing system. Although bilinguals scarcely commit random cross-language errors when they speak, there is evidence that both languages are active when one is in use.
BACKGROUND: This article builds on previous work using a selective attention variant of cross-language priming techniques to examine the mechanisms that regulate the activation and suppression of target and nontarget languages and the words within them. Twi (a native language of Ghana, Africa)-English bilinguals named a target prime word in Twi that was presented with a Twi distractor word and then made a lexical decision to an English target probe item in order to investigate potential cross-language positive and negative priming effects.
METHODS: Participants were classified according to their second language (L2) proficiency. Greater L2 proficiency was associated with the absence of attended repetition positive priming, coupled with greater ignored repetition negative priming, compared to those with less L2 proficiency.
RESULTS: These outcomes are discussed in terms of differences in the way less and more proficient bilinguals modulate their languages and the words within them.
CONCLUSION: The implications from these findings are also discussed with regard to conflicting predictions stemming from episodic retrieval and inhibition-based accounts of positive and negative priming and the potential of uniting language processing, memory, and attention under a common processing mechanism.