First language versus second language effect on memory for motion events: The role of language type and proficiency

Luna Filipović

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
19 Downloads (Pure)


Aims and objectives/purpose/research question: This research probes for language effects on witness memory in bilingual speakers whose languages are typologically distinct, English and Spanish. The key question is whether speakers’ memory for agentive motion events is influenced by first language (L1) or second language (L2) patterns, or both, when the L2 is used for descriptions. Design/methodology/approach: Four groups were tested in an event verbalisation and recognition memory task: English monolinguals, Spanish monolinguals, Late L1 English/L2 Spanish bilinguals and late L1 Spanish/L2 English bilinguals. The video stimuli depicted complex motion events (three manners of motion per event) because complex rather than simple events have been shown to elicit language effects. Data and analysis: The data for analyses include (a) the number of mentions and the type of detail included in the verbalisation of the manner of motion (the key typological difference) and (b) recognition error rates in the memory task. Recognition errors occurred when the pairs of target videos were deemed the same while in fact they were not. Findings/conclusions: Speaking in a L2 that makes it difficult to verbalise a component of an event (manner of motion) can have a negative effect on the memory for that specific component in L2 speakers, while at the same time benefiting memory for some other event features. Originality: This work shows, for the first time, negative effects of a L2 on memory for motion events and offers a hitherto elusive explanation and theoretical justification for the reasons when and why we do, or do not, get beneficial effects on memory in bilinguals. Significance/implications: The findings contribute to understanding of the effects of late (adult L2) acquisition on cognition. They support predictions of the Complex Adaptive System Principles (CASP) for Bilingualism model, advocating fine-grained typological approaches to lexicalisation of cognitive domains and explicit teaching of typological differences that affect information content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-81
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number1
Early online date12 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • Complex Adaptive System Principles for Bilingualism
  • language typology
  • motion events
  • second language proficiency
  • witness memory

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