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Translation Ambiguity Affects Language Processing, Learning, and Representation
Natasha Tokowicz
170-180 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


This paper reviews research exploring translation ambiguity, which occurs when a word in one language has more than one translation into another language. For example, the Spanish word "muñeca" translates to both "doll" and "wrist" in English. The studies reported in this review have focused on the influence of translation ambiguity on language processing, learning, and representation. With respect to language processing, translation production and recognition studies show that translation ambiguity leads to slower (e.g., Boada, Sánchez-Casas, Gavilán, & García-Albea, 2013) and less accurate (e.g., Tokowicz & Kroll, 2007) translation. Translation training studies show that translation ambiguity leads to less robust word learning (e.g., Degani & Tokowicz, 2010) as measured with translation tasks, unless the multiple translations of ambiguous words are trained together (Degani, Tseng, & Tokowicz, 2013). With respect to language representation, studies examining the semantic similarity of word pairs demonstrate that the knowledge that a pair of words share a translation in a later-learned second language impacts the level of perceived relatedness between those words in a first language (e.g., Degani, Prior, & Tokowicz, 2011), and that meanings that share a label in the first language and that also share a label in the second language are considered less similar in meaning than meanings that do not share a label in the second language, for less-proficient bilinguals. The implications for models of the bilingual lexicon and second language instruction are discussed, along with next steps in this area of research.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 2012 Second Language Research Forum: Building Bridges between Disciplines
edited by Ryan T. Miller, Katherine I. Martin, Chelsea M. Eddington, Ashlie Henery, Nausica Marcos Miguel, Alison M. Tseng, Alba Tuninetti, and Daniel Walter
Table of contents
Printed edition: $290.00