How bilinguals perceive speech depends on which language they think they're hearing

Kalim Gonzales, Krista Byers-Heinlein, Andrew J. Lotto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Bilinguals understand when the communication context calls for speaking a particular language and can switch from speaking one language to speaking the other based on such conceptual knowledge. There is disagreement regarding whether conceptually-based language selection is also possible in the listening modality. For example, can bilingual listeners perceptually adjust to changes in pronunciation across languages based on their conceptual understanding of which language they're currently hearing? We asked French- and Spanish-English bilinguals to identify nonsense monosyllables as beginning with /b/ or /p/, speech categories that French and Spanish speakers pronounce differently than English speakers. We conceptually cued each bilingual group to one of their two languages or the other by explicitly instructing them that the speech items were word onsets in that language, uttered by a native speaker thereof. Both groups adjusted their /b–p/ identification boundary as a function of this conceptual cue to the language context. These results support a bilingual model permitting conceptually-based language selection on both the speaking and listening end of a communicative exchange.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-330
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Language switching
  • Neural network models
  • Rational listener
  • Speech perception
  • Top-down processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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