Sample Linguistics Research Paper on Mini-Grant Project

Mini-Grant Project


            Bilingualism and multilingualism offer a wider platform for cross-cultural interaction and exchanges. It is estimated that more than half of the world’s population is bilingual and multilingual (Libben & Titone, 2009). Other than facilitating cross-cultural communication, bilingualism is assumed to affect cognitive abilities, since bilingual brain has better attention and task-switching ability than the monolingual brain. This is assumed to be attributed to the developed capability to inhibit one language while using another. Moreover, bilingualism children are assumed to better adjust to environmental changes than the monolingual children do. The study focuses on lexical access in bilingual speakers. Previous research proved that Bilingual speakers have better working memory capacity than monolingual speakers due to their application of global development of executive functions. However, the study is interested to prove whether bilingual speakers perform better in one of the language that they are proficient in. For instance, people in Hong Kong learn Cantonese as their mother language during infancy period and Mandarin at elementary school ages are remain proficient in both languages. However, their learning age and the learning environment have been assumed to make a difference on their performance in the language acquisition. This issue is of great significance from the point of view of language processing. According to American Speech language Hearing Association, the first language that a child learns affects the use of the second language. Bilingualism has more than one lexical representation and content that would not affect bilingual speakers in language processing.

            The hypothesis to be proved in this study is that a better working memory is essential in containing the first language that was accessed during infancy period than the second one that was accessed during school age. Plausible alternative hypothesis states that language that was accessed during infancy period will have no difference in working memory capacity than language accessed during schooling period. The prediction from the hypothesis is that participants will have a better recall of the items that performs in the language that their parents speak, while the alternative prediction proving the alternative hypothesis is that participants will have no difference in recalling items in between both languages they are proficient in.

            To test that prediction, we will use the participants that would be speaking two languages at home. Due to this reason, we will initially invite 100 bilingual participants and prepare a survey for them with questioning their background information. We would want to make sure they experienced or had access to only one language during their infancy age. After this confirmation, we will conduct an audio task, which will be in two stages. Both stages contain 16 words that are spoken into two languages they are proficient in (which they had during their infancy and the other than they learned during their schooling period). Half of the words will be present in one language and the other half will be present in another language. to control the confounding variables all of the 16 words will perform randomly and they are note related words. Such as road and pen, easy words will be used during this experiment. After playing the audio, we will ask the participant to wait 15 seconds and write down the words they remember. We will then collect the data and test out prediction. From our instructors, we would need assistance in the word choice and want to make sure the third person other than us will see the words we are using in this experiment in simple and high frequency.



To conduct the study, 100 respondents will be randomly chosen from Chinatown in San Francisco. The respondents must have a background in at least Cantonese as their mother language during infancy period and either Mandarin language acquired at the elementary school ages. The background aspect is to ensure that the participants are familiar with at least one of the tested languages. These participants are to be chosen in equal number in gender but in varied age groups. The variation in ages is a measure to ensure that the study is not bias on a given age group. This measure will further ensure that the study affirms the assumption that bilingual children have faster brain capability than the monolingual children. From a population within the city, the researchers are to randomly approach the public and enquire their background, gender, and age group. Another essential aspect is to ensure that the respondents have the ability to read and write to take them through the questionnaire and written test after the audio interviews.

Emphasis on the Cantonese language will be acquired as the mother tongue and how the lexical access is affected. Dividing of the participants into two groups will facilitate in proving that Bilingual speakers have better working memory capacity than monolingual speakers due to their application of global development of executive functions. The first group of bilingual speakers is expected to depict that bilingual speakers perform better in one of the language that they are proficient in than the monolingual speakers. In comparing the answers and the lexical acquisition, this bilingual group is expected to outperform the monolingual speakers. After the participants have willingly offered to take part in the study, they will willingly sign a consent document as an affirmation of their willingness to participate in the study. Consent form is essential to prove that none of the participants have been coheres into participating in the study.

Materials and Method

            The major methods to be applied in the study are interviews through questionnaires and a survey. Surveys are essential, as they will guide against biasness. The researcher is also certain of the data collected as primary and hence reliable. The researcher is able to collect the observable ability of the respondents in the lexical access such as the ability to respond quickly to the questions and the confidence the respondents have in going through and answering the questions (Libben & Titone, 2009). After the participants have had one thorough initial interview questions, they are to listen to an audio record that bears different words in the two languages. Thereafter, they are to record all the words they have grasped, a method that will guide the researchers to note of the fluency and brain ability to grasp the second language with ease.

            Before the initial commencement, the participants will be divided into two groups, the monolinguals, and the bilinguals. The bilingual group will act as the control group while the monolinguals will be the experimental group. In the first phase, the respondents will be taken through all the questions in the questionnaire with the aim of filling in all the details. From the answers, the respondents will be divided into the groups to prove the hypothesis. Dividing of the participants into two groups will facilitate in proving that Bilingual speakers have better working memory capacity than monolingual speakers due to their application of global development of executive functions. The first group of bilingual speakers is expected to depict that bilingual speakers perform better in one of the language that they are proficient in than the monolingual speakers. This proof will further depict that the bilingual brain has better attention and task-switching ability than the monolingual brain.

General Discussion

            Cantonese is a Chinese dialect spoken by the Cantonese people in mainland China, Pearl River Delta and Honk Kong (Cheng, Cheung & Wu, 2011). The language is partially viewed as a cultural identity of the native speakers though it shares some vocabulary with the Mandarin China. Mandarin and Cantonese are mutually unintelligible due to their variation in pronunciation, grammar, and lexical differences. Precisely, the sentence structure in verbs placement often differs between the two variables. The major difference however is in the spoken words of the two languages. Both languages can be recorded verbatim with few limited Cantonese speakers being knowledgeable in the comprehensive Cantonese written vocabulary. Cantonese is mainly written with the traditional Chinese characters that include additional characters and characters with different meanings from the standard written Chinese.

            Bilingual lexical access refers to a section in psycholinguistics studies that enlightens on the activation or retrieval process of the mental lexicon for the people that can speak two languages (Chen & Massaro, 2004). There are two lexical representations in bilingual people for items. They are additionally capable of successfully selecting words from one language in the absence of interference from other languages. This study is to highlight on the control mechanisms bilinguals apply to override the dormant language when they are in monolingual mode and the range to which the related representations within the dormant language are activated. For instance, in the response group, a bilingual may be asked to name a picture of a dog in the other language. They are forced to come up first with the word in the original languages before they can gain lexical access of the mental picture of the word to connect between the idea and the words in the target language. This results to an event where Mandarin and Cantonese texts are comparable with different pronunciations.

            It is being argued that for an individual to communicate with most of the Chinese speakers, they have to use and learn Mandarin. These speakers cannot understand each other verbally but they can communicate in writing. To maximize the communication potential therefore, Chinese are encouraged to learn Mandarin as the present official language. Cantonese language is however perceived as more difficult sue to its application do challenging tones. The tonal variation is somehow different from the normal variation since its infection is applied to convey emotion as in English but can actually change its meaning and grammar in a sentence. Cantonese is perceived as more difficult to understand than Mandarin due to the 6-9 tones, which uniquely signify different things, whereas Mandarin has four tones. Both languages however use pictorial representation rather than the phonetic representations. The characters in both languages are not to be sounded out but instead are used to depict ideas. For instance, 人 is the symbol for a person. Numerous symbols are combined into characters to form complicated ideas, that are independent from the sounds verbal speakers can apply to describe them.

            Selection of language has been proved as dependant on factors such as second language experience of the bilinguals, activity of the dormant language and the demands of the production role (Ijksta, 2005). This language selection process is perceived as a hard problem since to attain the simple objective of language production like naming a picture, it is essential to identify the object, comprehend and examine the meaning map and specify the phonology related with the word (Hallé, Chang & Best, 2004). This further implies that hard problem in bilingual lexical access is scrutinized when translation-equivalents are activated equally. Therefore, both lexical representations of the languages compete equally to be chosen for language selection. To solve this complication, it is essential that the solution be realized after the non-target language has been suppressed by the main language, in this case, Cantonese.

            Two major theorems are proposed in the language selection. There is the lexical selection mechanism that considers activation levels of the lexical nodes in the target language and in the process of the bilingual mind fails to activate dormant language. The other theory asserts that selection mechanism creates differences in the activation levels of the lexical nodes. This further implies that the bilingual mind sends more of the activation to the active language lexical nodes. From the study, cognitive process and high control mechanism is applied in both activities. In the study of the language selection therefore, lexical access in both monolinguals and in bilinguals is complex access since the preverbal message comprises all the required information encompassing the intended language (Cheng, Cheung & Wu, 2011).

            According to Ijksta (2005), in case the lexical access in monolinguals is satisfactory, and then understanding the bilingual lexical access is more simplified. Features of the processes and time course of learning monolingual language production has resulted to easier comprehension of the bilingual lexical access. Before articulation process of the monolingual process, lexical selection takes place parallel with the conceptual, lexical, and phonological process. This precisely takes place in the pre-verbalization.

            According to (Cheng, Cheung & Wu, 2011) the bilinguals, in the speech production, separating two languages and choosing appropriate words are the most essential abilities they possess. To understand the bilingual utterances in the bilingual mind and how the mind functions as control mechanisms, it is necessary to understand the reason the bilingual’s alternate languages while they are speaking in a given language. From previous experiments, it is apparent that language generation of the bilinguals are related to the personal experiences, language production processes, ascendancy of the non-target language and language proficiency in the two languages. Bilinguals can be differentiated from the monolinguals, as they must choose the language requirement of the production. Likewise, for a bilingual, language production must be selected which is not the case for the monolingual speakers.

            According to Libben & Titone (2009), there are four different categories of the speech production. There is the message generation, grammatical encoding phonological encoding, and articulation. Monolingual speakers are known to verbalize the picture task. This implies that when a monolingual is shown a picture of a cat, the picture would first activate the necessary concept then activation takes place in the lexical level, which is accompanied by related words such as dog, mouse, and bird. Thereafter, there is the choice is the lexical and meaning of the word finally follows. Most of the concepts in the bilingual cases have more than one lexical item when translated to a more dominant language. Competition is assumed to take place in the mind between the language and within the same language (Ijksta, 2005). A bilingual mind solves this present competition and generates a word in the correct language.

Responsibility Statement

            This project is to be accomplished by the three of us in the group. We already worked as a team and came up with the background information concerning the project at the introduction stage. The group members collectively will do random choice of the participants to reduce instances of unreliability and inflated number of participants. We will distribute equally the number of questionnaires to ask the participants after acquiring consent letter from them. The division of the participants is to facilitate time management of the data collection process.

In the data collection level, we will have to divide ourselves into three and individually conduct surveys so that we can gather different information according to our personal perspectives. This approach is effective in this case as we are different and hence possess different analytical skills. The gathered information from the surveys will be relevant in defining the cognitive abilities of the monolingual and the bilingual speakers. One group member will thereafter lead the two groups by directing them while the other two members are to be in control of each group. They are to ensure that all the participants are appreciating and following the instructions in the audio listening and writing section. In case of any questions, the respondents are to enquire from the leader of the group member and not from the general leader of the group. This measure is to ensure that no confusion arises in the course of data collection and that all the respondents are adhering to the instruction. I assumed the role of the overall group leader whose major role is to guide the individual leaders. Data analysis and presentation is to be conducted by the group members collectively.


            More than half of the world’s population is bilingual. This implies that more than half of the world population are able to perform better in one of the language that they are proficient in. the major focus is on the Cantonese speaking people from Hong Kong who have the ability to communicate in Mandarin. The study seeks to prove that more than one lexical representation and content would not affect bilingual speakers in language processing. At least 100 respondents are to participate in the study. Surveys and interviews are the major methods to be applied. The respondents are to be divided into two major groups: the bilingual and the monolingual speakers. Data collection, and interview sessions will be conducted collectively while surveys and audio listening in the lexical access session will be individually conducted. It is expected that the study will prove the hypothesis that a better working memory is essential in containing the first language that was accessed during infancy period than the second one that was accessed during school age.


Cheng, T., Cheung, H., & Wu, J.-T. (2011). Spoken relative clause processing in

Chinese: Measure from an alternative task. Language and Linguistics, 12 (3), 669-705.

Chen, T. H., & Massaro, D. W. (2004). Mandarin speech perception by ear and eye

follows a universal principle. Perception & Psychophysics, 66 (5), 820-836.

Hallé, P. A., Chang, Y.-C., Best, C. T. (2004). Identification and discrimination of

Mandarin Chinese tones by Mandarin Chinese vs. French listeners. Journal of Phonetics, 32 (3), 395-421.

Ijksta, T. (2005). Bilingual visual word recognition and lexical access. Handbook of bilingualism

            psycholinguistic approaches, 54, 179-201

Libben, M. R., & Titone, D. A. (2009). Bilingual lexical access in context: Evidence from eye

movements during reading. Journal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition, 35(2), 381.


Appendix A: A flow chart representation of the bilingual language processing including the word identification and task/decision subsystems

Appendix B: Differences between the three main standards of Cantonese Tones


YaleCantonese PinyinJyutpingIPAHanyu Pinyin


YaleCantonese PinyinJyutpingIPA


YaleCantonese PinyinJyutpingIPATone Contour[77]
ā, à1155, 53˥, ˥˧
àh4421, 11˨˩, ˩
áh5524, 13˩˧