Original Paper

Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 383-409

First online:

The Effect of Phonological Structure on Visual Word Access in Bilinguals

  • John Evar StridAffiliated withDepartment of Linguistics, Northwestern UniversityDepartment of Linguistics, Northeastern Illinois University Email author 
  • , James BoothAffiliated withDepartment of Communication Science and Disorders, Northwestern University

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Two experiments examined if visual word access varies cross-linguistically by studying Spanish/English adult bilinguals, priming two syllable CVCV words both within (Experiment 1) and across (Experiment 2) syllable boundaries in the two languages. Spanish readers accessed more first syllables based on within syllable primes compared to English readers. In contrast, syllable-based primes helped English readers recognize more words than in Spanish, suggesting that experienced English readers activate a larger unit in the initial stages of word recognition. Primes spanning the syllable boundary affected readers of both languages in similar ways. In this priming context, primes that did not span the syllable boundary helped Spanish readers recognize more syllables, while English readers identified more words, further confirming the importance of the syllable in Spanish and suggesting a larger unit in English. Overall, the experiments provide evidence that readers use different units in accessing words in the two languages.


Bilingualism Spanish/English Reading Visual word activation Priming