ASL Speaker Series: Dr. Erin Wilkinson

Oct 10, 2016 at - | Cohen G-17

The ASL Program in the Department of Linguistics and Penn Humanities Forum are pleased to announce the ASL Lecture Series event for Fall 2016.  Dr. Erin Wilkinson will be presenting "A cross-linguistic study of lexical processing in ASL-English bilinguals" on Monday, October 10, from 5-6:30 PM in Claudia Cohen Hall, Room G-17.

Light refreshments will be served following the talk and a social hour will continue until 7:30

This event is free and open to the public.  ASL interpretation will be provided for signing audience members.

The abstract is detailed below and a link to Dr. Wilkinson's bio can be found here.

For questions, please contact Jami Fisher, ASL Program Coordinator, Department of Linguistics:  jami@upenn.edu  

A cross-linguistic study of lexical processing in ASL-English bilinguals:

Deaf children, deaf adults, and hearing adults compared


Erin Wilkinson

University of Manitoba, Department of Linguistics 


An enduring question in the bilingual literature concerns whether bilinguals limit their search of the lexicon to the target language, called selective lexical access, or whether both languages are always active, even in monolingual contexts, called non-selective lexical access. Evidence of non-selective lexical access in hearing bilinguals often relies on phonological or orthographic cognates across the languages in question, which demonstrates that non-selective lexical access in hearing bilinguals is the norm rather than the exception (Dijkstra & Van Heuven, 2002; Marian & Spivey, 2003). 

Little is known, however, about cross-language influence in deaf bilinguals who rely on a signed language for daily communication, but are also fluent readers of the written form of a spoken language. In the absence of phonologically- and orthographically-similar words and signs, is it possible for deaf bilinguals to exhibit non-selective lexical access? Is lexical access non-selective for both children and adults? To what extent can knowledge of a signed language actually support the acquisition of a spoken/print language? These questions are addressed with studies evaluating lexical access in both children and adult signers (Morford, Wilkinson, Villwock, Piñar & Kroll, 2011; Morford, Kroll, Piñar & Wilkinson, 2014; Ormel, Hermans, Knoors, & Verhoeven, 2012).


This talk will describe a series of studies of ASL-English bilinguals that investigated whether written words activate signed translation equivalents in three groups of deaf children, deaf adults, and hearing adults. Participants completed a monolingual task, in which they saw two English words and had to decide whether they were semantically related or unrelated. Unbeknownst to participants, some of the words had translation equivalents of similar ASL signs (e.g., bird – duck; movie-paper) while others did not (e.g., brain-heart; engine-button). Findings on the interaction between semantic relatedness and sign phonology will be compared across three groups of deaf children, deaf adults, and hearing adults. The role of ASL proficiency and language dominance in cross-language activation will be discussed along with broad implications on the nature of signing participants’ bilingualism.