Bilinguals apply language-specific grain sizes during sentence reading

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Electronic versions



Languages differ in the consistency with which they map orthography to phonology, and a large body of work now shows that orthographic consistency determines the style of word decoding in monolinguals. Here, we characterise word decoding in bilinguals whose two languages differ in orthographic consistency, assessing whether they maintain two distinct reading styles or settle on a single ‘compromise’ reading style. In Experiment 1, Welsh-English bilinguals read cognates and pseudowords embedded in Welsh and English sentences. Eye- movements revealed that bilinguals dynamically alter their decoding strategy according to the language context, including more fixations during lexical access for cognates in the more consistent orthography (Welsh) than in the less consistent orthography (English), and these effects were specific to word (as opposed to pseudoword) processing. In Experiment 2, we compared the same bilinguals’ eye movements in the English sentence reading context to those of monolinguals’. Bilinguals’ eye-movement behaviour was very similar to monolinguals’ when reading English, suggesting that their knowledge of the more consistent orthography (Welsh) did not alter their decoding style when reading in English. This study presents the first characterisation of bilingual decoding style in sentence reading. We discuss our findings in relation to connectionist reading models and models of bilingual visual word recognition.


  • reading, bilingualism, Eye tracking
Original languageEnglish
Article number104018
Number of pages11
Early online date20 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

Total downloads

No data available
View graph of relations