Translation ambiguity but not word class predicts translation performance

Anat Prior, Judith F. Kroll, Brian MacWhinney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated the influence of word class and translation ambiguity on cross-linguistic representation and processing. Bilingual speakers of English and Spanish performed translation production and translation recognition tasks on nouns and verbs in both languages. Words either had a single translation or more than one translation. Translation probability, as determined by normative data, was the strongest predictor of translation production and translation recognition, after controlling for psycholinguistic variables. Word class did not explain additional variability in translation performance, raising the possibility that previous findings of differences between nouns and verbs might be attributed to the greater translation ambiguity of verbs relative to nouns. Proficiency in the second language was associated with quicker and more successful production of translations for ambiguous words, and with more accurate recognition of translations for ambiguous words. Working memory capacity was related to the speed of recognizing low probability translations for ambiguous words. These results underscore the importance of considering translation ambiguity in research on bilingual lexical and conceptual knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-474
Number of pages17
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Anat Prior was supported by post-doctoral NRSA grant F32HD049255 and by EU-FP7 grant IRG-249163. The writing of this article was also supported in part by NIH Grant HD053146 and NSF Grants BCS-0955090 and OISE-0968369 to Judith F. Kroll and by the NSF Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center. The authors thank Mercedes Farrell, Anna Guitchounts, Sofia Murra, Shayna Watson and Huiling Yu for data collection and coding. The authors also gratefully thank Prof. Ana I. Schwartz and members of the PROBAR Lab from the University of Texas, El Paso, for help in recruiting participants. Finally, the authors wish to thank two anonymous reviewers who made helpful comments and suggestions on a previous version of the paper.


  • bilingual lexicon
  • translation ambiguity
  • word class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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