Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Ilse Wambacq

Committee Member

Mary Boyle

Committee Member

Lauren Covey


Early and late bilinguals both differ in the speed with which they comprehend language or in their processing of sentences compared to monolinguals. This is possibly a result of crosslanguage interference, differential allocation of cognitive resources, or some other difference in language-dependent processes. This dissertation presents research and review focusing on one such language dependent process — the use of sentential context and lexical-associative semantic information — to process sentences. In a series of studies, 34 bilinguals and 28 monolinguals complete a retroactive masked priming task, which provides an isolated measure of the use of semantic information to backwards recognize degraded visual primes. Monolinguals demonstrated significantly faster reaction times as more semantic information became available in the conditions, whereas bilinguals did not. Compared to bilinguals, monolinguals also demonstrated faster reaction times in the condition of this task that had the most semantic information available to use for processing. These results suggest bilinguals use semantic information to activate word-level associates differently than monolinguals, and that their processing may even be inhibited by additional semantic context. Throughout this dissertation, these differential results are analyzed in the context of a differential processing mechanism in bilinguals and as the result of individual differences in cognition or their linguistic experiences.

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