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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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DE BRUIN, George  and  CORNELIUS, Eleanor. "My pen is in my hand": An investigation of lexical activation in English-Afrikaans general bilinguals, professional translators and professional interpreters. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2019, vol.59, n.2, pp.216-234. ISSN 2224-7912.

Ample psycholinguistic research has been done into the activation of the mental lexicon of the bilingual person and especially whether this activation is language selective (when only the language in use is activated, whilst the other language is completely deactivated) or language nonselective (when the language not in use is not completely deactivated, but merely inactive).1 Researchers who have studied this phenomenon employed three kinds of words to test their hypotheses, namely interlingual homographs (words with the same form, but different meanings), interlingual cognates (words with the same form and meaning) and interlingual neighbours (words with very similar yet not the exact form, but different meanings). These methodologies typically embed these words in otherwise unilingual sentences (sentences that are grammatically and syntactically possible in only one language). The need has been expressed, however, to use a more natural context. This article describes the methodology that De Bruin (2018) designed to determine whether language-selective or language-nonselective activation occurs in general (non-professional) bilinguals, professional translators and professional interpreters. To achieve this, the methodology employs two of these word types, namely interlingual homographs and interlingual cognates, but extends these to sentence level, i.e. interlingual homographic sentences and interlingual cognate sentences in Afrikaans and English. In the former, the sentences have the same form and order in both languages, but they differ in meaning; in the latter, the sentences display the same word order, form and meaning in both languages. In this way, De Bruin (2018) attempts to enrich the research context from a word to a sentence level, i.e. from lexeme to sentence level, thereby satisfying the need for a more natural context. This methodology is further designed to incorporate different types of bilinguals (general bilinguals, professional translators and professional interpreters) to investigate whether professional translators and professional interpreters present with a higher level of language-nonselective activation than general bilinguals. An experimental task consisting of five sentence groups with four sentences each in a specific order forms part of the research design. Respondents are required to read these sentences aloud, which are displayed in a particular sequence one after the other on a computer screen. The first sentence group starts with a unilingual sentence to ensure that the respondent is primed in a specific language. This sentence is followed by a perfect cognate sentence (which, it is assumed, the respondent would also read in the same language). The third sentence, which serves as the target sentence, is in the opposite language than the first sentence, but in such a way that it closely resembles the primed language but violates the grammar rules of the primed language. The reaction of the respondent points to either language-selective or language-nonselective activation. If, for example, respondents do not recognise the newly-introduced, "correct" language by correcting their error (either by rereading or completing the sentence in the "correct" language), this can be taken to point to language-selective activation because the "correct" language had not been activated. However, if the "correct" language is recognised and used, this can be regarded as language-nonselective activation. Whenever the researcher experiences difficulty in clearly establishing either types of activation, the result is recorded as undetermined. An important component of the research methodology is the identification and inclusion of respondents. To clearly define and delineate the three respondent groups - general bilinguals, professional translators and professional interpreters - strict inclusion criteria and minimum requirements are applied that respondents must meet. These are based on ethical considerations, as well as criteria relating to language proficiency, language skills and language use. The professional translators and professional interpreters are furthermore subject to strict requirements to ensure their professionalism, which are based on experience, income, language proficiency and language use, as well as membership of and accreditation with professional language organisations. The results obtained by applying this novel methodology complement existing evidence to support theories of language-nonselective activation of the mental lexicon of the bilingual person (Dijkstra, Timmermans & Schriefers 2000; Nakayama & Archibald 2005; Kerkhofs et al. 2006; and Szubko-Sitarek 2015) and can be explained in terms of current theories and models of lexical activation in bilinguals, most notably the BIA (1998) and the BIA+ (2002) models of Dijkstra and Van Heuven. Moreover, it provides evidence that professional translators and professional interpreters may demonstrate a higher level of language-nonselective activation compared to general bilinguals. However, as a result of the relatively small sample sizes the results of the study are not generalisable to larger populations.

Keywords : psycholinguistics; mental lexicon; lexical activation; language-nonselective activation; research methodology; bilinguals; professional translators; professional interpreters; homographic sentence; cognate sentence.

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