Features of low functional load in mono- and bilinguals' lexical access: evidence from Swedish tonal accent

Nadja Althaus, Allison Wetterlin, Aditi Lahiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Swedish makes use of tonal accents (Accents 1 and 2) to contrast words, but the functional load is very low, with some regional dialects not even exhibiting the contrast. In particular given the low number of minimal pairs, the question is whether tonal word accent is used in lexical access. Here we present two cross-modal fragment semantic priming studies in order to address this question. Both experiments use first syllable fragments in order to prime semantically related targets. Experiment 1 utilises words whose first syllable occurs with both accent patterns, creating a situation in which there is lexical competition between words that differ solely in terms of accent. Experiment 2 removes this competition by using words that have no such accent competitors. Our results show that native speakers of Swedish use tonal word accent in lexical access: Accent mispronunciations failed to prime semantically related targets, regardless of whether primes had accent competitors or not. Results for a group of early bilingual speakers (who grew up with one Swedish-speaking parent and one other non-tonal language) showed no differences in processing compared to the monolinguals. This indicates that the extraction of accent features during acquisition and their use in lexical access is robust, even in a scenario where multiple input languages lead to tonal word accent being a useful feature for only some of the lexical items that are being acquired. There is no doubt that the accent system is well entrenched into the bilinguals’ phonological system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-199
Number of pages25
Issue number3
Early online date11 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2021


  • bilingualism
  • lexical access
  • lexical tone
  • low functional load
  • pitch accent
  • semantic priming

Cite this