Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology


Bruce D. Homer

Subject Categories

Educational Psychology


bilingualism, linguistic relativity


Extending Whorf's popular notion of linguistic relativity (LR) to bilingual contexts, one would argue that a speaker's first language (L1) influences her thinking and behavior under second language (L2) conditions. According to one interpretation of LR, inter-language relativity, L1 instills in its speakers habitual ways of thinking and thus influences their perception and categorization in L2 contexts. Under intra-speaker relativity, bilinguals follow either L1 or L2 patterns of performance, depending on L2 proficiency. Finally, according to usage-based accounts of language, there is no qualitative difference between mono- and bilingual speakers, and a bilingual's performance under L2 conditions is best viewed in terms of their ongoing engagement with L2.

To investigate how much each interpretation contributes to our understanding of cognition, language, and culture, two studies were conducted with a sample of 45 adult Russian-English bilinguals. Each study was based on a popular research paradigm and tested all three interpretations of LR for their explanatory value. Study one utilized a one-word association task conducted in both languages, a common way to examine the conceptual organization of the bilingual lexicon. Study two utilized a different kind of association task to investigate influences of L1 (grammatical gender) under L2 conditions. In both studies, there was no evidence in support of either inter-language or intra-speaker relativity. There was evidence in support of usage-based accounts of language: bilinguals' use of informal English appeared to moderate their performance under L2 conditions.