God Topic Supervisory Attentional System English Language Essay



As we know many people in the world are bilingual. So it is reasonable to ask how they are able to control their languages. I mean when they decide to speak using one of their either languages what factors are influential?

Do they have two separate lexicons each for any of their languages?

Or what factors help them to use as easily as possible the words of the intended not their corresponding in other language? In this regard in Grean's research we study:

The question as to how people are able to control their language system is an important one and has been a topic for highly active research in recent years. Until now, models have been quite simplistic, but Green places his model in a wider framework of attention and control, drawing our attention to the fact that the mechanisms involved in language control share basic properties with the systems in other cognitive domains. Green introduces the supervisory attentional system in combination with language task schemas which make it possible to adapt to the situation in which the bilingual system is functioning. Models of bilingual processing should be able to explain how lexical processing is affected by, among others, task demands. By adding a general mechanism of attentional control that is independently motivated by general cognitive mechanisms, Green has enriched his previous model considerably.

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Speech involves making some choices in a hierarchy of options. With regard to bilingualism, some believe that these options are provided by two lexicons and grammars rather than one by a speaker. For example they say:

''Conceptualization processes map a communicative intention onto a message indicating the conceptual information to be verbalized to reach a speaker's communicative goal. In bilinguals, the illocutionary intention may be to express oneself in one language rather than the other, or to mix languages. Formulation processes activate and select lemmas and forms for the message concepts, and plan a syntactic and a morphophonological structure. Lemmas specify the syntactic properties of words, crucial for their use in sentences. The result of formulation is an articulatory program, which, when executed by articulation processes, yields overt speech. A central theoretical problem is how bilingual speakers manage to keep the options provided by the two languages apart in monolingual conversation, and how speakers are able to integrate the options in bilingual conversation where language mixing may take place.''

So as the first work proposes supervisory attentional system can be used to account for the easily selection of the words in either languages by a bilingual.

In second one it is believed that the number of the lexicon is equal to the number of the languages that is, in case of bilingualism two.

In my study I am going to go through the processes by which the proof of such a system be achieved. Although I know that I may suffer from the lack of means which leads to standing on my view unsatisfactorily.

Statement of the problem

As faced by so many scholars, the difficulty to answer the questions is indeed challenging. Some of these questions need some specific tools to be answered, and some answers are not easily generalized to other bilinguals just because their languages are different from those which were examined.

In this study I want to see first the role of supervisory attentional system as claimed and also its part in Persian- English bilinguals. Need to notice that the subjects I selected for my study all are graduated in English, and it is possible to see some discrepancies between their L2 which is English and their mother tongue, Persian.

So the research questions can be:

Is Supervisory attentional system an influential factor in selecting the intended words from intended language by a bilingual?

Is this system at work in Persian-English bilingual? Or in other words is it possible to generalize the role of the system to other bilinguals with different languages?

In this work I face some questions each of which need a thorough study and most importantly some instruments to do the job as properly as desired. As the title of the research suggests I am going to prove that supervisory attentional system could be one of the cognitive factors influencing the selection of the intended words instead of their corresponding representatives in bilingual's other language while speaking.

Purpose of the study

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In this study I want to put emphasis on the attentional consideration as one of the cognitive facilitators to ease the processes of speaking and thereby limit the number of speech errors such as anticipation error (when a sound is brought forward in a sentence and used before it is needed), preservation error (when a sound or a word which has already been used reappears) and reversal error (also called spoonerism: when the position of a sound, word or syllabus is reversed).

Review of literature

So far so many researches have been done and it is obvious that so many will be done by scholars nowadays. I tried to mention those just in my view are more pertinent to my work.

Green (1998) proposes an inhibitory control (IC) model of bilingual lexical processing. Green's claim is the notion of "mental control," formulated in terms of inhibition, control schemas, and a supervisory attentional system. Grean adds: '' The notion of control suggests some sort of intentional, external force at work (e.g., the supervisory attentional system). It seems mental control differs from automatic processes (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977), yet in the IC model there is no precise computational specification of how the various parameters of the control system actually interact to determine automatic bilingual processes. In a computational view, the IC model has quite some symbolic AI flavor but it also attempts to integrate activation-based accounts. Again, because the model remains at a rather conceptual level as presented, it is difficult to determine how successful it will be in combining symbolic and connectionist approaches in understanding bilingual processing.''

Green makes the critical observation that models of lexical and semantic representation in bilingual memory fail to specify a mechanism that would enable the bilingual speaker to act. Under the conditions typical of most experimental research, bilinguals are asked to perform a well-defined task, such as word or picture naming, lexical decision, or translation. The question Green raises is how is it that the bilingual effectively performs one of these tasks rather than another? And within a given task such as word translation, how does the individual manage to produce words in one language and suppress the other? The goal of Green's proposal is to provide a preliminary account of the control apparatus that a bilingual would need to possess in order to perform effectively in this environment. An adequate model of these control mechanisms will presumably allow us to understand not only how bilinguals perform simple laboratory tasks, but also how they manage to engage the appropriate language during normal discourse, including code-switching with other bilingual speakers.

Anna Soveri (2009-2010) claimed that ''due to their experience in controlling two languages, bilinguals exceed monolinguals in certain executive functions, especially inhibition of task-irrelevant stimuli. Here we investigated the effects of bilingualism on an executive phonological task, namely the forced-attention dichotic listening task with syllabic stimuli. In the standard non-forced (NF) condition, the participants reported all syllables they heard, be it from the right or the left ear. In the forced-right (FR) and forced-left (FL) attention conditions, they had to direct their attention to either the right- or the left-ear stimulus and inhibit information coming to the other ear. We tested Finnish monolinguals and early simultaneous Finnish-Swedish bilinguals from two age groups: (30-50-year-olds and 60-74-year-olds). The results showed that the bilinguals performed better than the monolinguals in the FR and FL conditions. This supports the idea of a bilingual advantage in directing attention and inhibiting task-irrelevant stimuli.''

In Anna Soveri work the thing that caught my attention is the bilingual's ability to lead his or her attention and controlling the stimuli which are irrelevant.

Dwbra Jared and Carrie Szucs examined if bilinguals simultaneously activate phonological representations from both of their languages when reading words in just one.

They go on to claim that ''The critical stimuli were interlingual homographs (e.g., PAIN) that were low in frequency in the target language of the study (English) and high in frequency in the non-target language (French). Both English-French and French-English bilinguals were tested. In each experiment, participants named a block of English experimental words, a block of French filler words, and then a second block of English experimental words. In the first block of English trials, the English-French bilinguals had similar naming latencies for homographs and English-only control words, although they made more errors on homographs. In contrast, the French-English bilinguals showed a homograph disadvantage in both the latency and error data. In the second block of English trials, both the English-French bilinguals and the French-English bilinguals showed homograph interference on latency and error measures. We interpret these results as indicating that the activation of phonological representations can appear to be both language-specific and nonspecific, depending on the characteristics of the bilingual and whether they have recently named words in the non- target language.''

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As seen there are a number of ways to see the part played by cognitive factors in the speech or written form of a bilingual. By such practices it is possible to answer the questions like: what are the bases of connection between the lexical and semantic representations? Are semantic representations shared across the bilingual's two languages? Are the lexicons integrated or separated? And the question that is related to the current work: How are words selected in the intended language while their corresponding words do exist in bilingual's other language? Are words in two languages activated during speaking? Is it possible to control their activation? In other words is their selection selective or non-selective? And my questions what is the role of supervisory attentional system? To what extent its part is influential?



The participants I used in my study are five of my colleagues who are all graduated in the course of English teaching and have a good command of English, so can be called bilinguals. Their first language is Persian. They are about thirty five and also have been teaching English for more than ten years.


In this study I selected three methods to see while speaking, how a bilingual sticks to his or her intended language.

The first one is using the semantic associations which exist between words. That is, the participants are asked to take part in a conversation while using only one of their languages (Persian). After ten minutes of communication they are asked to say the first word or words which come to their mind after hearing some words that I uttered (words that I uttered were as follows: Cheshmeh , Asman, Khoobi and Shekar and their words were as follows: Ab, Parvaz, Mehr and Ahoo respectively). Such an experiment has some useful results of which, the one we are interested in, is that it shows none of participants said or used words of the other language, the language which is not being used in the given conversation. It means that when the supervisory attentional system is used just to concentrate on the production of words in one language, it controls the activation of words and tasks in the intended language and consequently does not allow the lemma of the other language of the bilingual to produce words. So this attentional system concentrates on the production and generation of the words in the language which is being used in the current conversation.

The second method is using the definition of words. Again I asked the participants to start a conversation. Contrary to the first conversation, this time they used English as the medium. Like the first one, after ten minutes of speaking I started my part. I asked them to say the words whose definitions are said by me. They all, after hearing the definitions, used the words of English as the equivalents of the definitions which I uttered. This experiment also has some applicable results of which the concentration of the attentional system on the production and use of the ongoing language in the conversation is the one we are interested in.

In third method I used the synonym and antonym of words to show the role of supervisory attentional system in selecting the intended words in intended language by a bilingual.

In third method I did not confine the participants to any of their two languages. They were free to use either language. They answered in both languages. But when they are asked to use only one language it seems that it takes time to respond my questions.

In this stage I selected some words from both languages and asked the participants to offer their synonyms and in other stage their antonyms using both languages freely. They were able to provide the needed words, but in some cases when they were free in using any of their two languages it took time to respond.

I think in such cases it took much time because the supervisory mechanism had to pay attention to both lexicons to find the correct words.

Data analysis

The results of the experiments as stated briefly in previous section can lead us to the interpretation that supervisory attentional mechanism as one of the crucial factors helps speaker to have an accurate and fluent conversation. This system can be used to account for unmistaken speaking, because concentration on the word production has to result in non (or at least less) existence of mistakes in communication. So I conclude that: 1-this system is used to concentrate the attention of the speaker on the words s/he is to produce.2- both languages are activated during the conversation and the participants have access to both. 3-when free, it takes time to select the word or its corresponding representation in other language, because concentrating on words of any of languages by supervisory attentional system takes time.4-no matter of the languages the supervisory attentional system is at work to ease the selection of words.