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The influence of romanizing a non-alphabetic L1 on L2 reading: the case of Hindi-English visual word recognition


The romanization of non-alphabetic scripts, particularly in digital contexts, is a widespread phenomenon across many languages. However, the effect of script romanization on English reading by bilinguals with English as a second language is underexamined. Guided by the premises of the script relativity hypothesis and the Bilingual Interactive Activation (BIA+) model, we examined differences in phonological activation during visual English word recognition by Hindi-English bilinguals after they were primed with interlingual homophones in Devanagari (traditional Hindi script) and Romanagari (romanized Hindi script). We also explored the specific roles played by diacritic markers and individual language proficiencies. Linear mixed-effects and regression modeling showed that participants were faster at English word recognition when primed by interlingual homophones in Romanagari than in Devanagari. Further, words with diacritics led to faster English word recognition than words without diacritics with both scripts. This was unexpected since Romanagari does not mark diacritics. Finally, lexical proficiency in English and Devanagari explained variance in phonological priming effects. The findings provide evidence that adopting an additional L1 script might reconfigure the architecture of the bilingual lexicon. Our results support the view that script differences play a critical role in language processing.

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Correspondence to Anisha Singh.

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Singh, A., Wang, M. & Faroqi-Shah, Y. The influence of romanizing a non-alphabetic L1 on L2 reading: the case of Hindi-English visual word recognition. Read Writ 35, 1475–1496 (2022).

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  • Script romanization
  • Visual word recognition
  • Bilingual
  • Hindi
  • Script relativity hypothesis