Does Script Influence Novel Word Learning? A Comparison Of Same-script And Different-script Bilinguals

Open Access
Hance, Emma Weiss
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Adriana Van Hell, Thesis Supervisor
  • David A. Rosenbaum, Honors Advisor
  • psychology
  • bilingualism
  • psycholinguistics
  • linguistics
Studies have shown that bilinguals are highly effective third language learners, and outperform monolingual speakers when learning a novel language (e.g., Papagno & Vallar, 1995; Van Hell & Mahn, 1997). However, does novel word learning differ for bilinguals whose two languages share the same (alphabetic) script, as opposed to different-script bilinguals? To address this question, Kaushanskaya and Marian (2009) tested English-Spanish and English-Mandarin bilinguals, teaching participants novel words from an artificial language. Novel words were presented alongside their English translations, allowing participants to make associative links between the novel words and their first language. No differences were observed between same-script and different-script bilinguals in recall or recognition tasks. A possible explanation for the absence of a script effect in Kaushanskaya and Marian’s (2009) study is that both bilingual groups employed English as the mediating language, therefore bypassing a possible influence of script. To determine if language script affects novel word learning abilities of different-script versus same-script bilinguals, the script variation must be present in the first language, and the second language must remain constant. The present study, a novel word learning experiment, addresses the question of script effect by comparing Mandarin-English (different-script) and Swedish-English (same-script) bilinguals, and monolingual English-speaking controls. Both bilingual groups and the monolingual group learned Malay words (alphabetic script) through Kaushanskaya and Marian’s learning and testing procedures, utilizing their first language as the mediating language. Critically, the first language in the Mandarin-English bilinguals has a different script from the to-be-learned Malay words, whereas the first language of the Swedish-English bilinguals uses the same script as Malay. The results on the recognition test showed a significant difference in performance between the two bilingual groups, with the Swedish-English bilinguals outperforming the Mandarin-English bilinguals, thus suggesting that language script has a significant effect on a learner’s ability to obtain fluency within a novel language.