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Michel Paradis
McGill University, Montreal

The cognitive architecture of bilingual speakers contains at least four systems involved
in verbal communication (i.e., implicit linguistic competence, explicit metalinguistic
knowledge, pragmatic abilities and affect/motivation). The neurofunctional system that
subserves implicit linguistic competence contains as many subsystems as the speaker
has acquired languages. Each subsystem contains its phonology, morphology, syntax,
semantics and lexicon. These language subsystems are differentially connected to a
single conceptual system that groups conceptual features together in accordance with
the specific lexical semantic constraints of words in each language and the relevant
pragmatic circumstances at the time of their use (Paradis 2004).
Three main points will be discussed: (1) the distinction between the cerebral repre-
sentation of concepts on the one hand and of lexical semantics on the other; (2) the
representation of languages (including lexical semantics) as dissociable subsystems of
the neurofunctional language system, connected to a single common conceptual system;
and (3) the lack of qualitative difference between unilingual and bilingual brains in terms
of conceptual organization and processing (though the contents of the representations
may, and often do, differ). To paraphrase Kecskes and Papp (2000: 37), the main ques-
tion will be: To what extent are the two languages [neuro] functionally independent, and
to what extent do they constitute a single [neuro]functional system? Special emphasis
will be placed on the relationship between the linguistic and conceptual levels.

1. B A C K G R O U N D

1.1. Neurofunctional Components of the Verbal

Communication System
As described in greater detail in a neurolinguistic theory of bilingualism
(Paradis 2004), the native language (i.e., the grammar, what can
be described by linguists in terms of rules: phonology, morphol-
ogy, syntax and the lexicon) is acquired incidentally (i.e., by paying
I. Kecskes and L. Albertazzi (eds.), Cognitive Aspects of Bilingualism, 328.
2007 Springer.

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4 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

attention to something other than what is being internalized as linguistic

competence), is stored implicitly (i.e., remains opaque to introspec-
tion), and is used automatically (i.e., comprehension and production are
not consciously controlled). This implicit linguistic competence is sub-
served by procedural memory, which relies on neural structures in the
right cerebellum, left basal ganglia in particular the neostriatum and
perisylvian cortex (the classical language areas).
In addition, individuals are aware of the observable characteristics of
the manifestations of speech, including their own production, in partic-
ular the forms and default meanings of words. In other words, speakers
are conscious of the input to, and output from, implicit linguistic compe-
tence, but not of the internal structure and operation of that competence.
The knowledge emerging from these conscious observations is stored in
declarative memory, which relies on neural structures in the hippocam-
pal system, including the parahippocampal gyri and mesial temporal
lobes. Its use is consciously controlled and as such, involves the anterior
cingular cortex.
Learners of a foreign language who are not exposed to constant com-
munication with speakers of that language generally learn about the
structure of the language from books or in the formal environment of
a classroom. This learning, being conscious, is therefore subserved by
explicit (declarative) memory. Because implicit linguistic competence
is acquired only through frequent use of the language, foreign language
learners often have little occasion to acquire implicit linguistic compe-
tence in L2. With time, especially if they enter into frequent real-life
communication with speakers of that language, they may eventually
acquire some implicit linguistic competence, but they will most likely
continue to rely to a great extent on explicit metalinguistic knowledge.
Besides the grammar of their language, speakers acquire the ability
to infer intended meanings from the context in which utterances are
produced, whether it be literal (the meaning derived from the meanings
of words and the structure of the sentence, i.e., its semantic meaning),
figurative, metaphorical, or simply enhanced by the situational, social,
and discourse contexts. This is known as pragmatic ability. Each lan-
guage possesses some specific pragmatic cues in addition to general
pragmatic principles. Pragmatic ability is subserved by areas of the right
hemisphere (Van Lancker 1997).

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No one would ever say anything without the desire to communicate

a message. Motivation is at the root of every utterance. It has been
shown to have a considerable impact on the acquisition (Schumann
1998; Schumann et al. 2004) and attrition (Schmid 2002, 2004;
Pavlenko 2005) of languages. Moreover, the manifestations of affect are
closely related to certain forms in each language and language-specific
pragmatics. Motivation, and affect in general, are subserved by a cere-
bral mechanism involving the amygdala and the dopaminergic system
(Schumann & Wood 2004).
All these neurofunctional systems are independent of each other, sub-
served as they are by different cerebral structures, and can be doubly
dissociated by pathology. One system may serve as input to another, but
does not modify its internal structure. For instance, pragmatics does not
modify any part of the grammar; it only selects the elements of each
component of grammar (phonology, morphology, syntax and lexical
semantics) that optimally fit the intended meaning in the given context
of each utterance. Whereas implicit linguistic competence is susceptible
to impairment subsequent to damage to any of the cerebral structures
that sustain it (aphasia), explicit metalinguistic knowledge is susceptible
to impairment subsequent to damage to the hippocampal system (amne-
sia). Pragmatic abilities are selectively impaired by lesions in areas of the
right hemisphere (dyshyponoia). Damage to the limbic system, causing
lack of motivation, leads to loss of speech in the absence of impairment
to language per se (dynamic aphasia).
Each neurofunctional system is necessary but none is sufficient for
normal verbal communication. As we are about to see in more detail
below, all these systems are connected to a conceptual system where
thoughts originate before they are encoded into language for production
and where meanings are decoded into conceptual representations for the
comprehension of perceived utterances or written text.

1.2. Neurofunctional Components of the Bilingual

Cognitive System
First, a historical note: The three-store hypothesis considered here orig-
inates in the psycholinguistic studies of the seventies that investigated
whether the two languages of bilingual speakers are represented in two

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6 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

memory stores or one (McCormack 1977). Typically, bilingual subjects

would be trained on a particular task in one language and then tested in
the other. If the results differed from the same-language control condi-
tion (i.e., practice in the other language did not facilitate performance),
they were interpreted as supporting the two-store hypothesis; if the
results were similar, they were interpreted as supporting the one-store
hypothesis. Experimental results were inconsistent, with some inter-
preted as supporting the one-store, and others the two-store option.
Kolers (1968) reported that his own findings were not consistent with
either hypothesis: the results were too similar to support the two-store
hypothesis but not sufficiently alike to support one common store. He
concluded that the actual situation of a bilingual person combines aspects
of both hypotheses. In order to solve this problem, Paradis (1978) pro-
posed to account for Kolers findings by postulating not one, not two,
but three stores: one for each language, and one common system con-
taining conceptual representations corresponding to both languages. The
two language stores were later considered to be represented as subsys-
tems of the language neurofunctional system (Paradis 1981). Lexical
semantic representations of L1 and L2 words differ and are stored sepa-
rately (each in its subsystem); conceptual representations corresponding
to L1 and L2 words are also at least partially different, but within a
common system.
Lexical items rarely have the same meanings as their translation
equivalents (Paradis 1997), besides having different syntactic connec-
tions within the language subsystem. Even when they have identical
meanings, the lexical meanings are redundantly represented in each
subsystem. Lexical items, including their meanings, are represented as
part of their respective language subsystem and the conceptual feature
groupings that correspond to the semantic constraints on lexical items
of each language are represented in a common conceptual system.
The three-store hypothesis holds that concepts are dissociable from
language: aphasics retain concepts, even those that were acquired
through language. Global aphasics behave intelligently; for example,
they may beat you at chess and solve algebraic equations. Linguistically
delimited concepts (i.e., English- or French-specific concepts), once
they have been acquired, are stored independently of the language that

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shaped them, though they retain all their language-specific idiosyn-

crasies, and they remain available after the loss of language. Lexical
meaning representations differ from conceptual representations in that
the former are part of the language system, the latter, of the conceptual
system; hence, the three-store hypothesis. Unfortunately, there is some
confusion in the literature regarding the use of the terms semantic and
conceptual. Often the term conceptual refers to the lexical semantic
meaning and semantic refers to the conceptual level. Meaning repre-
sentations are often called conceptual representations because most
models do not distinguish between word meaning and concept (De Groot
2002; see Francis 2005 for a discussion of the confusion). But the fact
that pinpointing the difference between semantic and conceptual knowl-
edge is tedious (De Groot 2002: 48) should not cause us to ignore this
distinction, which is supported by clinical studies. Certain types of apha-
sia that affect lexical semantic representations do not necessarily affect
conceptual representations (Alajouanine & Lhermitte 1964; Lecours &
Joanette 1980; Marshall 1984; Gurd & Marshall 1993).
In the common conceptual system, conceptual features are grouped
together in accordance with the specific lexical semantic constraints on
words from each language and the relevant pragmatic circumstances
at the time of their use. To the extent that lexical constraints are sim-
ilar in the two languages, the same conceptual representations will be
activated; to the extent that they differ, so will their conceptual represen-
tations. The lexical semantic constraints may have the greatest impact
on language-derived conceptualization, though features of grammar also
convey specific conceptual representations (as emphasized by Pavlenko
1999, 2000).
Kecskes and Papps (2003) common underlying conceptual base
(CUCB) corresponds to Paradis third store, the nonlinguistic cognitive
system where conceptual features that conform to the lexical semantic
constraints of each language are grouped together. As in the three-
store hypothesis, it is in the CUCB that thoughts originate and are then
mapped onto linguistic signs to reach the surface through one of the lan-
guage channels. This is done directly: the perceived acoustic or graphic
characteristics of the words automatically access the corresponding con-
cepts, that is, an L1 or L2 concept depending on the word that has been

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8 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

heard or seen, just as, in unilinguals, two different words will each evoke
their particular concepts (Paradis 2004).

1.3. The Subsystems Hypothesis

The neurofunctional system underlying implicit linguistic competence
contains one subsystem for each language acquired by the speaker. Each
subsystem contains its own phonology, morphosyntax, semantics and
The language subsystems, including their lexicons, are neurofunc-
tionally distinct, but not stored in separate cerebral areas. Rather, the
neural circuits that subserve them, while distinct, are intertwined within
the same gross anatomical area (Roux et al. 2004). The two languages
never form a common system at any level of structure or at any time in
development. At the phonological level, even when a person speaks L2
with a strong foreign accent, the phonemes of L2 are not the phonemes
of L1: even though the values, as represented in the speakers brain,
may be closer to L1 than to L2 values, the two systems are independent
and may be selectively impaired by pathology (Alajouanine et al. 1949).
The same goes for syntax, morphology and lexical semantics, no matter
how many features of L1 are found in the L2 system, or feature values
closer to L1 than is appropriate. In cases of full L1 values, the feature is
then redundantly represented in the L2 subsystem.
The subsystems hypothesis holds that the two language subsystems
are totally separated (i.e., no part of any subsystem shares an item with
another subsystem). If they can be said to share a feature; that is, a
feature of L1 that is identical to its counterpart in L2, either deviantly
or legitimately when the same parameter happens to be implemented in
both languages, it can only mean that the same feature is redundantly
represented in each respective subsystem. In this view, Cooks (2003: 8)
partial integration Figure 1 may correspond to an abstract schematic
diagram of the meanings of words. But, though it may correspond to
representations at the extralinguistic neurofunctional conceptual level,
it does not correspond to the way any grammatical or lexical component
of two languages is represented in Paradis model of the bilingual brain,
with which it is presented as being compatible.

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Language A Language B

Figure 1. Partial integration (after Cooks [2003] Figure 1.3 B).

1.4. Redundancy of Representation in each Subsystem

From the perspective of a neurolinguistic theory of bilingualism, even
an interlanguage, or transitory grammar, to the extent that it is internal-
ized as implicit competence, is stored in the L2 subsystem in the same
way as a bona fide L2, and continues to change and develop within that
subsystem in the same way that any language develops. However, the
sequence of development may differ from the L1s, and many L1 or
other deviant features may fossilize and remain part of the speakers L2
grammar. The deviant grammar is stored like any other grammar. The
nature of what is represented in the L2 implicit linguistic competence
subsystem is identical to that of any native language, namely parame-
ters of linguistic principles of the relevant sort (phonological, syntactic,
morphological, lexical semantic) whether appropriate for the particu-
lar language or not. Indeed, there is no reason to suppose that the brains
of bilingual speakers, whose L2 implicit grammar incorporates more
features identical to those of their L1 than to the grammar of L2 native
speakers, should in any way represent and/or process their languages
differently than the brains of speakers whose grammars legitimately
incorporate those features.
There is no reason for the brain to treat an illicit parameter differently
from a correct one. Two languages may legitimately contain the same
parametric instantiation of certain grammatical principles, while other
parameters differ. The actual number of similar features in two languages

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10 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

is a mere historical accident and it changes over time. Let us consider a

concrete example. If the main clause of a sentence is in the future, then
clauses starting with when, in some languages, must use either (1) the
present tense (as in English) or (2) the future tense (as in French); in
other languages, one may (3) optionally use one or the other (as in
Greek). The brain will develop a subsystem for L2 in which any one of
these options is implemented. In some cases, it will actually correspond
to the correct form in that particular language, in others it will not.
Thus, let us assume that an English speaker acquires French imperfectly
and systematically uses the present instead of the future tense in the
when clause. That parameter will be inappropriately represented the
same way in both the French and English subsystems, just as it would be
legitimately represented in English and Italian. There is thus no reason to
suspect that a subsystem that contains an instance of static interference
from L1 should differ in its representation or processing from a system
that legitimately contains the same feature in both subsystems.
Cross-linguistic cognates are also quasi-redundantly represented in
each subsystem, for at least three reasons: (1) A particular word may
be available to a bilingual aphasic patient, but not its cognate in the
other language (the same argument that rules out the extended and the
tripartite systems see Paradis 1981); (2) lexical meanings, as well as
pronunciations, are very rarely identical; and (3) lexical items and their
cognate translation equivalents have different intralingual connections
and often possess different syntactic characteristics. For example, the
verb telephone requires a direct object in English but an indirect object
in French; information is a mass noun in English, but a count noun in
French. At the conceptual level, the amount of overlapping features in
the conceptual representation, for cognate and noncognate translation
equivalents alike, will correspond to the actual degree of similarity in
meaning between a word and its translation equivalent.

2. T H E N AT U R E O F R E P R E S E N TAT I O N S , T H E I R

Bilinguals have a conceptual base that is qualitatively identical to

that of unilinguals. Only the number of language-governed concepts

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and their exact boundaries differ. Bilingual memory does not differ
in kind or in organizational principles from unilingual memory. It
can be said that bilingual memory differs from monolingual mem-
ory to a great extent (Kecskes & Papp 2003: 258) only with regard
to what is represented and processed, not how. The common concep-
tual base of bilinguals is identical in nature, organization, development
and use, to the unilingual conceptual base. It is simply bigger at
least in most cases (a unilingual literature professor may have more
language-based concepts than a bilingual shepherd). The content of
representations may be impoverished and/or deviant with respect to
native speakers norms but it is stored and processed in the same way
as any correct language-governed concept. Therefore, the cognitive
functioning of bilinguals is identical to that of unilingual speakers.
If, by cognitive functioning one means the actual contents of the
ideas and values processed in the speakers mind, then the differ-
ence between the cognitive functioning of a unilingual and a bilingual
speaker is of the same kind as that between a native Hungarian speaker
and a native American English speaker: What they think may differ
but the principles that underlie the thinking and feeling processes are
the same.
As Kecskes and Papp (2003: 258) rightly assert, Each language used
as an L1 of a community has a system of expectations and traditions.
But unilinguals living in a bicultural environment also have two sets
of expectations and traditions for their native words and expressions,
depending on the context of their use. Liberal may be considered a
compliment in one group, an insult in another. Just as one can pre-
dict that a German speakers semantic boundaries of the word Freund
(an intimate friend) will change after living in California for 20 years,
where you introduce someone you have met at the bus stop 15 minutes
ago as my friend Bill, one can expect the notion of cold weather to
go through the same type of rearrangement when an English speaker
moves from northern Vermont to Florida. Under the influence of the
frequent use of the other language, concepts are modified in bilinguals
to include or exclude a feature or features (i.e., static interference)
in the same way that concepts are modified by new experience in

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12 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

2.1. Similarity in Nature

The nature of what is represented is the same whether concepts originate
in one language or a blend of two or more. The fact that a concept has
been derived from L2 semantic constraints does not alter its characteris-
tics: it is still made up of conceptual features, behaves in the same ways
when activated, and combines with other concepts to give rise to mental
The fact that L1- and L2-derived concepts are part of a CUCB does
not mean that translation equivalents have identical conceptual represen-
tations, in that the meanings of a word and of its translation equivalent
correspond to one and the same concept. Far from it. Concepts in one
language and their closest equivalents in another are rarely, if ever,
identical; they overlap but do not share exactly the same contents
(see Paradis 1997).
Note that we should distinguish between the linguistic concept (i.e.,
the complete conceptual representation corresponding to the lexical
semantics of an item) and the conceptual representation evoked by the
utterance of a word in context those (and only those) relevant features
of the linguistic concept that are activated as restricted by the situation
and the linguistic context in which the word is uttered. Not all features
of a concept are activated whenever a word is used. What is activated
by any given use of the word is modulated by the various pragmatic
circumstances, the mental set, etc.; you never activate all the concep-
tual features associated with a given concept, only those relevant to the
situation. Thus, in some cases, when the differences are not relevant in
the context, the very same features may be activated when either an L1
word or its translation equivalent is used. For example, if on the tennis
court I say pick up all the balls or ramasse toutes les balles, balles
and balls refer to the same objects and the addressee will pick up all the
tennis balls that are on the court. But, if in the gym I say apporte-moi
toutes les balles qui sont dans le placard, the addressee will bring a
different set of objects than if I ask for all the balls that are in the closet.
In the latter case, basketballs and soccer balls will be brought along with
the small baseballs and tennis balls that would be brought following the
French request.

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The same L1 word may activate different concepts depending on the

pragmatic situation. In a sarcastic remark, a word will be interpreted to
mean the opposite of its usual meaning. Moreover, unilinguals cannot
really be said to have, in contrast to bilinguals, a qualitatively different
one-language-governed conceptual base (Kecskes & Papp 2003: 249),
because many of the concepts in the CUCB do not correspond to a word
or expression in L1. This could be true only in a theory of radical lan-
guage determinism, in which no concept existed without a corresponding
word as its source. Yet, children clearly have many concepts long before
they acquire their first word. The unilinguals underlying conceptual
base is simply quantitatively smaller, since it has fewer possible featural
groupings that correspond to words.

2.2. Similarity in Organization

As proposed earlier, bilinguals have two independent language subsys-
tems, but both of them have access to the same underlying conceptual
base where conceptual meanings group together certain features that cor-
respond, say, to the word glass, another set, with considerable overlap,
that corresponds to the word goblet, and yet another, also with consid-
erable but not total overlap, that corresponds to the word verre. This
is what it means to have a common conceptual system, independent of
language and languages. The conceptual system is in a constant state of
flux as it incorporates new insights from experience and new meanings
for words (i.e., words that have different meanings in different contexts),
as well as meanings for new words in both L1 and L2.
Concepts of the two languages coexist and interact in the bilingual
individuals CUCB (the third store) in the same way that different con-
cepts of the same language and those shaped by experience coexist and
interact in the unilingual conceptual system. The contents differ, not the
nature of the representations or the kind of cognitive functioning. With
different material, a bilingual speaker functions cognitively in the same
manner as a unilingual speaker. Note that no two unilinguals possess
identical concepts, either. The difference is one of degree; it concerns
only the content of representations (i.e., the specific combination of con-
ceptual features), not the way concepts are acquired, formed, used or

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14 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

stored. In this respect, bilinguals differ from unilinguals no more than

unilingual English speakers differ from unilingual Spanish speakers.
L1 concepts are more easily modified by L2 concepts (and the
reverse), than grammatical elements are, because they are sustained
by declarative memory. The lexical semantic constraints on the use of
a word, and consequently its corresponding conceptual representation,
are generally known explicitly. For instance, one can demonstrate that
one knows the meaning of the word mug by identifying an actual object:
Yes, this is a mug; no, this is not a mug. Of course, there may be bor-
derline cases: This is not quite a mug. It is nevertheless perceived as
a mug-like cup or bowl and will be so described, for instance, when
trying to explain to friends back home the type of large breakfast cup
from which one drank ones caf au lait in France.
What is represented may differ from target-language native speakers
representations but the principles of conceptual organization and pro-
cessing are the same. The content may be impoverished and/or deviant
with respect to native speakers norms, but it is stored and treated in the
same way as any bona fide language-specific concept.
The conceptual system is affected by a new language in the same way
as it is affected by the encounter with new L1 words and new real-world
experiences. L2 words activate a different set of conceptual features
than their L1 translation equivalents in the same way that L1 synonyms
do. In the bilingual conceptual system, the number of concepts changes;
their organization does not.
2.3. Similarity in Development
The way the conceptual base of a second language develops does not
differ qualitatively from the analogous process in the first language.
Unilingual individuals continuously increase their conceptual base as
they encounter new experiences and learn new words of their L1. The
experience of learning new L2 words with their corresponding concep-
tual representations is not different in kind. It simply adds new featural
groupings in the same way as learning new synonyms in the L1. There
is thus no need to postulate an additional conceptual system for L2
only an extended underlying conceptual base, extended in the same way
that the unilinguals conceptual base is extended over a lifetime, as our

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knowledge of the world and, to some extent, of our native language

With prolonged language contact, concept boundaries may change
so that L1 words no longer activate their original conceptual meanings,
but incorporate some or all conceptual features of their L2 equivalents.
Semantic constraints on the use of L1 words become blurred. Faux-amis
from L2 will creep into L1; For example, an English speaker living in a
French environment will call a lecture a conference, or a less colloquial
calque will be used the speaker will tell a friend that his flight was
annulled rather than cancelled. This follows the same pattern as the
change in unilingual concept boundaries consequent to new experiences.
To speak of the emergence of the CUCB when the learner has reached
a certain threshold of L2 proficiency (Kecskes & Papp 2003: 250) might
imply that a new system is developed, when in fact it is the existing
conceptual system that gradually increases as boundaries of some L1
concepts start to gain and/or lose some features of previous L1-driven
concepts and new L2 concepts are formed. The CUCB cannot be an
additional container that would hold those L1 and L2 concepts whose
meanings start to overlap improperly. The common conceptual system
is a single system that contains unchanged L1 concepts, L1 concepts
modified by L2 contamination, native-like L2 concepts, and L2 concepts
modified by L1 contamination. All these combinations of conceptual
features are represented in the CUCB and behave in all respects in exactly
the same way any concept does.
At early stages of development, the concept that corresponds to the
L2 word may coincide with that of its L1 equivalent: the features that
correspond to the L2 word start off by being identical to those of the
corresponding L1 word. With time, the overlap ceases to be complete as
some features are deleted and others added to a concept that eventually
corresponds more closely to the actual native L2 conceptual represen-
tation of the L2 word. Thus, at first, the English speakers concept of
balle may totally correspond to that of ball (and this concept is activated
whether ball or balle is used), but as time goes by, the learner finds out
that balle is used only for balls small enough to be held in one hand,
and the feature [+small] is added to the L2 concept balle. The grouping
of conceptual features for ball and balle is no longer identical, and the

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16 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

speaker learns the word ballon to refer to large balls. In a similar way,
for the native English toddler, there comes a time when doggie takes on
additional features and is no longer applicable to all four-legged animals,
and the word cat is learned. The reverse may also occur in both bilingual
and unilingual situations, when a new concept moves from the specific
(ones own house pet) to general (all dogs).
Cook (2003) considers that the notion of the integration continuum
is compatible with Paradis neurolinguistic theory of bilingualism in
unifying both L1 and L2 within the same architecture of the mind, but
that it differs in extending the continuum to concepts, whereas the neu-
rolinguistic theory of bilingualism has a single unvarying conceptual
system (p. 11). In the proposed theory, the bilingual conceptual sys-
tem has indeed a single conceptual system, but it is not unvarying.
Like the unilingual conceptual system (and perhaps even to a greater
extent), it varies over time as new L2 concepts are incorporated. Again,
the variation is in the contents, not in the nature or processing, of the
representations. The process of development is the same.
2.4. Similarity in Processing
In the bilingual language processing device, both language channels
interact during production, resulting sometimes in mixing, switching,
modifications and temporary dominance of either language (Kecskes &
Papp 2000). Similarly, sociolinguistic and/or dialectal registers may
interact in unilingual processing. As Labov (1972) pointed out, there
are no single-style speakers. Every speaker encountered by his research
team showed a shift in some linguistic variables as the context changed.
Unilinguals switch registers when addressing different people in differ-
ent circumstances. Unilingual parents do not speak to their children at
bedtime in the same register as they speak to a judge in a courtroom.
A change of register involves a change in lexicon, morphosyntax and
even pronunciation as does switching between languages. Unilinguals
can mix registers the way bilinguals mix languages for a number of pur-
poses, including jocularity. For example, a French person may say to
a friend: Hier jai rencontr Danielle et nous papotmes (Yesterday
I met Danielle and we chatted). The verb papoter (familiar register) is
used in the simple past (literary formal register), resulting in the intended

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comical effect. Unilinguals can suffer from interference between reg-

isters, inadvertently using a more frequently used familiar term in a
formal conversation. Unilinguals can paraphrase. Paraphrasing is a phe-
nomenon which does not differ in kind from translation, that is, saying
more or less the same thing with different words and/or morphosyntax,
even pronunciation. For example, baby or pet talk uses different intona-
tion, pitch frequencies, and even, on occasion, different phonemes from
speech to adults.
Cook (2002: 5) raises the objection that L1 paraphrasing seldom leads
to social roles such as acting as an intermediary between two other
people. In other words, circumstances are such that unilingual speakers
are not commonly placed in situations where they need to paraphrase
what one person said so that another may understand. Nevertheless,
parents often do translate adult speech that is addressed to their child by
strangers into motherese. Some bilinguals, on the other hand, are seldom
called upon to translate. They have little opportunity to do so, but they
could if necessary. This is the point: the functions of mixing, switching
and translating are available to unilinguals and bilinguals alike and some
bilinguals make more extensive use of these functions. The difference
is only in the actual frequency of use. Such frequency varies not only
among bilinguals but among unilinguals as well: day care attendants
need to paraphrase more often than people without children; lawyers
need to paraphrase a judges statement for the benefit of their clients.
There is no need to postulate a neurofunctional mechanism that would
sprout only in bilingual brains to fulfill a new function.
Another situation sometimes considered unique to bilinguals is that,
when the expectation is that Language A will be spoken but, in fact, it
turns out that Language B is being used, comprehension may be momen-
tarily blocked. In the same way, unilinguals sometimes fail to understand
what is said if they expect their interlocutor to speak about one thing
but in fact that person starts speaking about another. Mindset affects
comprehension in both unilinguals and bilinguals.
There is therefore no reason to expect that anything in the bilingual
brain should differ in kind from anything found in the unilingual brain.
The mechanisms for comprehension and production in the bilingual
brain do not need any additional component that is not already present

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18 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

in the unilingual persons brain. The only difference is the extent to

which unilinguals and some bilinguals make use of the various parts
of the verbal communication system, but all such parts are available to
bilinguals and unilinguals alike.
The neurofunctional system need not be organized differently depend-
ing on whether an individual speaks one or more languages. Between
different types of bilinguals and unilinguals, what changes is not the type
of mechanism that sustains implicit linguistic competence or conceptual
representations but the individuals grammar; not the way in which the
two languages are represented, but what is represented; not the organi-
zation of the system but its contents. The same is true of the CUCB: its
nature and functioning principles are identical to those at work in the
unilingual conceptual system.

2.5. Similarity in Handling Cultural Values

Speakers may be aware of the different cultural values conveyed by each
language and may, within this set, choose to adopt those specific to one or
the other, or to compromise between the two, irrespective of the language
they use. This is a question of contents rather than organization into one
or two systems. Unilinguals may also choose implicitly or explicitly to
accept or reject the values conveyed by their language community.
For example, a French-English bilingual, even though a native
speaker of French, may nevertheless consider that the Anglo-Saxon way
of speaking in turns in a debate is preferable to the Latin way where all
participants speak at the same time. Speakers may select from the values
attached to each of their languages the ones they consider preferable,
or modify them somewhat. They may also choose to behave one way
in an L1 environment and another in an L2 environment, just as unilin-
guals adjust their behavior (linguistic or otherwise) to the company of
close friends and relatives on the one hand, and to more formal com-
pany on the other. Bilingual/bicultural speakers thus have three choices.
They may accept some of the traits of the other culture, choose a middle
ground between L1 and L2 cultures, or stick to their L1 values as embed-
ded in the connotations. Furthermore, they may have no preference, in
which case they may use the L1 and L2 words with their respective

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language-specific connotations. There is no need to postulate a separate

conceptual store for each of these situations; not to mention the fact that
these behaviors are on a continuum, depending on a variety of circum-
stances. Nor does the conceptual system alter the way it acquires and
handles values.
To the extent that connotations are an integral part of the language-
specific meaning of a word, that is, are conventionalized and usually
listed in standard dictionaries, they are stored as part of the language
subsystem lexicon in the left hemisphere, and thus accessible to
right-hemisphere-damaged patients who have difficulty with non-
conventional connotations, figurative meanings and metaphors. Native
speakers will naturally use the words of their language with their stan-
dard meanings, including their conventional connotations. To the extent
that these connotations are absent from the conceptual system of L2
speakers of that language, there is interference in the same way as
with the names of concrete objects (e.g., the meanings of balle, poil,
chaise, chat vs. ball, hair, chair, cat). This simply means that the lex-
ical constraints and corresponding conceptual representations have an
impoverished content; the appropriate connotations are missing.
Different languages have coined specific conventional metaphors,
but the principle of a metaphor is independent of specific languages.
Here again, the only difference is a question of what specific mean-
ing is metaphorically attached to a specific expression in a particular
language. There is nothing fundamentally different about storing an
English-specific metaphor or a Russian-specific metaphor. Their trans-
lation into the other language may yield nothing but the literal meaning,
but English-Russian bilingual speakers are aware of the metaphorical
meaning of each. To the extent that speakers have not incorporated the
cultural aspects of a foreign language into their repertoire, they may
translate an L1 metaphor into the L2 language, and fail to communicate,
as one fails to communicate when a linguistic parameter has not been
internalized, reflecting static interference.
If bilingual speakers are uncomfortable with the particular conno-
tation of a word or expression in one of their languages, they will
simply avoid using it or use a non-offensive translation equivalent
(i.e., a word that, in the other language, does not have the unwanted

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20 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

connotation). Unilingual speakers do the same: they avoid words that

they find offensive and use euphemisms or circumlocutions instead.
When affectively charged words and taboo words elicit a greater
autonomic activity (faster heartbeat, sweat) in speakers L1 than their L2
(Harris et al. 2003), it means that these words became associated with
particular emotions early in life and have remained so for a long time,
and links are therefore stronger than to their translation counterparts.
However, in the case of attrition of L1 after decades of life in an L2
environment, the L2 emotive associations may strengthen over time
again, a quantitative difference that mirrors the variance in L1 situations.
Different individuals speaking the same language in the same cultural
environment will assign different emotive strengths to various words on
the basis of their own personal circumstances.
This in no way denies that different languages are bearers of dif-
ferent cognitive perspectives and different world views. Each of a
bilingual speakers languages affords him or her a specific perspective.
Both perspectives are acquired through communication in each lan-
guage environment, or consciously learned from instruction. This is not
incompatible with a CUCB: the bilingual individual simply has more
choices (a quantitative difference). Unilingual speakers will likewise
encounter different perspectives, and face the same choices, when they
share the experience of two groups at opposite ends of the sociocultural
and/or political spectrum say, farm-hand paternal grandparents and
aristocratic maternal grandparents.

2.6. Apparent Caveat: Late Bilinguals

Late bilinguals differ from early bilinguals and unilinguals in the extent
to which they rely on implicit linguistic competence, metalinguistic
knowledge and pragmatics (Paradis 2004), but do not differ in terms of
the type of conceptual development, representation, or functioning. It
does not matter how the concepts get there, whether through language
(L1, L2) or through experience. Once a conceptual representation is
formed, its relevant parts are activated in the appropriate context.
Late bilingual speakers L2 conceptual representations differ from
those of native speakers of that language, but no two unilinguals

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have identical conceptual representations either, whether quantita-

tively or content-wise. New L2 lexical constraints delimit new concept
boundaries and modify existing ones in the same way that new
experiences do, including learning new L1 words.
To the extent that metalinguistic knowledge is used to compensate for
gaps in implicit linguistic competence, late L2 learners will differ from
native speakers and early bilinguals in the degree to which the various
cognitive systems are used for second language verbal communication
again, a possibly large, but still quantitative difference.
Besides their reduced implicit linguistic competence in the L2, speak-
ers may use metalinguistic knowledge in a controlled manner, thus
resorting to a different grammatical system subserved by an altogether
different cerebral mechanism. But at the conceptual level, since units of
meaning are explicit, they do not differ from unilinguals in the nature
of their representations or ways of processing. L2 words evoke their
corresponding concept just as synonyms (or any two words) in one
language do.
In early bilinguals, two subsystems form from the start (from the time
the child shows evidence of differentiating languages by using one with
one set of interlocutors, the other with another set). To the extent that late
bilinguals have internalized some implicit linguistic competence in L2,
they possess two subsystems, even if one is less extensive than the other.
At least at the beginning, and probably to some extent for the rest of their
lives, their L2 will differ from their L1 in that a different neurofunctional
system, subserving metalinguistic knowledge and relying on declarative
memory, subserved by different cerebral mechanisms, will also be used
to process L2. This mechanism is used in processing L1 as well but to a
lesser extent, and usually in more formal situations.
Whereas at no point and under no circumstances is there a single
neurofunctional system of implicit linguistic competence common to
both languages, even for those elements that happen to be identical
in the two languages and will be represented once in each language
subsystem, the opposite holds at the conceptual level. There is only
one common conceptual system for both languages, and it works in
accordance with the same principles in unilinguals and early or late

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22 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

2.7. Similarity in how, Dissimilarity in what is Represented

It should be apparent by now that it is important to distinguish what is
represented (specific phoneme, morphosyntactic rule, lexical semantic
unit, concept) from the way in which it is represented (how the various
mechanisms underlying the representation and processing of the differ-
ent components of the verbal communication neurofunctional system
operate). What is represented may differ; how it is represented and
processed does not.
There is even a way in which we may consider that the representa-
tions themselves, at least at the phonological, phonotactic, lexical and
conceptual levels, differ only quantitatively from the unilingual norm.
At first glance, they appear qualitatively different. For example, Spanish
phonemes are not the same as Swedish phonemes; lexical semantic con-
straints on the use of a word are not the same as those on the use of its
translation equivalent and do not refer to exactly the same objects, prop-
erties or events. But the apparent qualitative difference is the result of
quantitative changes, changes that can be defined in terms of distance (in
millimeters), duration (in milliseconds) and amplitude (in decibels) for
sounds, and in terms of the number of meaningful features for concepts.
The vocal apparatus is the same for all human beings. Native speakers
of Oriya have the same vocal flaps, palate, lips, teeth and glottis as native
speakers of English. They make different uses of the available principles
of phonology phonemes are more or less fronted, more or less labial,
more or less palatalized, more or less nasal but the underlying mech-
anisms for producing language sounds are the same. In production, the
duration of vocal flap vibrations may vary, the proximity of the tongue
to the teeth or the palate may vary, the size of the opening of the lips may
vary, but all these differences are quantitative, measurable differences.
The same phonotactics are available to everyone at birth. Each lan-
guage to which children are exposed has its own set of phonotactic
constraints, which differ from those of others. Further degrees of differ-
ence are possible within the limits of the perceptual and motor systems
involved. Thus, when an L2 phonological feature is closer to L1 than
appropriate, or over time an L1 feature becomes more similar to L2 val-
ues through prolonged contact with L2, the modification (interference)

KECSKES: CHAP01 2007/5/5 15:03 PAGE 22 #22


results in quantitative differences that give rise to a perceptible foreign

accent. The underlying mechanisms that sustain the representation, per-
ception and production of speech sounds are identical for these modified
bilingual features. The differences result from quantitative variations
in the use of these universally available devices. Even differences in
phonological representations (what is represented) may be considered
quantitative differences because they are the outcome of the inclusion
of more or fewer traits of the relevant kind.
The same argument applies to conceptual representations. Some con-
cepts are acquired or allowed to be instantiated through experience and
keep being modified by experience, that is, increasing or pruning the
meaningful domain covered by each concept. Some concepts will be
developed through linguistic delimitation (particular-language-driven
concepts). These may modify some of the concepts acquired through
experience by adding or subtracting meaningful features to constitute a
new meaningful representational unit (a new concept). Modifications of
this sort through exposure to two languages and/or two cultures are of
the same kind as the ones that occur in unilinguals. Hence here, as for
all other aspects of unidirectional or bidirectional interference, the dif-
ference is merely quantitative more or fewer conceptual features enter
into the constitution of a concept to match the corresponding lexical
semantic constraints.
In syntax, the differences are not in terms of more or less of a particu-
lar element, but of the use of a different parameter of a given principle
which again does not require the postulation of a bilingual-specific
mechanism. The brain treats the wrong parameter wrong in this
particular language according to the current norm in the same way as
it would treat the correct one. If the contact between two languages is
not just individual but societal, that parameter may in fact eventually
become the correct one for the particular language. Even if we wish
to consider representations as truly qualitatively different, they never-
theless do not differ in kind from unilingual representations in their
acquisition, organization, development and functioning.
The grammars of various languages differ from each other along a con-
tinuum of limited possibilities. Some of these differences are extensive,

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24 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

others are minor. Some elements are almost identical in any two given
languages. Bilingual language subsystems do not contain anything dif-
ferent from this; there is nothing specific to bilinguals. Whether one or
both of the bilinguals language subsystems does or does not contain
items that are identical to the corresponding native system does not
make them different in nature; some deviant elements in one language
are actually legitimate in others. Nothing sets apart the bilingual lan-
guage systems except their size and actual content, though this content
is of the same type and in most cases is quantitatively derived.
The underlying mechanisms that sustain the various representations
and their processing are the same in all individuals, whichever language
or languages they speak. The only difference, for speakers with imper-
fect competence in a second, third or fourth language, is the degree
of reliance on other systems within the verbal communicative system
(metalinguistic knowledge and pragmatics) in order to compensate for
an incomplete implicit linguistic competence system but this does not
affect the conceptual system subserved by declarative memory.
A good analogy to clarify what is proposed here might be a computer
program say, MS Word that underlies the typing of a document.
The program is invariable, irrespective of the characteristics of the texts
that are produced with its help. Documents may be typed in English
or German, in 10- or 14-point characters, in Times or Courier font;
parts of the text may be italicized or bolded; the text may be faultless
or riddled with typos. Nevertheless, the Word program that sustains
all the documents is the same. You may or may not actually use much
italicization of characters or a lot of underlining, but these functions
are available to you and to any user of MS Word. The texts differ only
(quantitatively) in the extent of the use of the available options.
To push the analogy a step further, let us assume that you type a text
in German, your second language. You may systematically fail to use
upper case for the initial letter of certain common nouns. Note that both
upper and lower case are available and upper case is used to a certain
extent when typing English. This is usually considered a transfer error
(an interference) that leads to an inaccurate text from the viewpoint of
standard German orthography. But all these transfers, errors and mod-
ifications are quantitative variations made possible by the underlying

KECSKES: CHAP01 2007/5/5 15:03 PAGE 24 #24


processing principles of MS Word, limited only by the nature of the

There is little doubt that acquiring and using a second language is
a dynamic process in which transfer, both linguistic and conceptual,
occurs continuously between the two or more languages. However,
what is involved in this dynamic process of bidirectional transfer is not
the nature of linguistic and conceptual representation and processing.
Linguistic representations remain parametric variations of phonological,
morphological, syntactic and lexical semantic principles, and concepts
continue to function along the same principles of temporary groupings
of meaningful features, giving rise to thoughts. The contents of gram-
mars fluctuate, but the principles of grammar and conceptual processing
are not affected. The same systems continue to function in the same way,
albeit with different phonological features, morphosyntactic rules and
lexical items. The difference between a unilingual and a bilingual is
akin to that between a native speaker of English and a native speaker
of Farsi: they both possess a language system and a conceptual system
that function in accordance with grammatical structures, rules, processes
and conceptual representations, respectively. In each case, what is repre-
sented and processed differs, with English grammar and English-driven
concepts in one, Farsi grammar and Farsi-driven concepts in the other,
and non-linguistic concepts in both.
In this light, total separation and total integration (Cook 2003) can
only refer to the contents of representations, not to the language system
or any module of the language system or subsystems. Neurofunctionally,
total separation would correspond to the dual system and integration to
the extended system, both of which are rejected for empirical reasons in
favor of the subsystems hypothesis (Paradis 1981, 2004).
The grammatical and conceptual transfers consist of linguistic and
conceptual material, respectively. The identity of the material may
differ, but the nature of the material (phonological, morphological,
syntactic, semantic, conceptual) is not affected. There is not a single
function or cerebral mechanism available to bilinguals that is not also
available to unilinguals; the difference is one of degree of use of the
various mechanisms as well as the form of what is represented and

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26 M I C H E L PA R A D I S

What is represented varies from native speaker to native speaker of the

same language in some respects (especially at the conceptual level), from
language to language, and from unilingual to multilingual individuals.
But the difference in the latter case is no greater and is of the same kind
as the difference between native speakers of Russian and of Chinese; it
is not specific to bilingualism.

3. C O N C L U S I O N

The language subsystems are connected to a single conceptual system

where conceptual features are grouped together in accordance with the
specific lexical semantic constraints of words in each language and the
relevant pragmatic circumstances at the time of their use.
The conceptual base of a bilingual speakers L2 differs only quanti-
tatively from that of L1: What is represented may differ from L2 native
speakers representations but the principles of conceptual organization
and processing are the same as those of L1. Phonological, morpho-
logical, syntactic, lexical and conceptual modifications due to another
language and/or cultural influence bear on the contents of bilingual
speakers relevant neurofunctional systems, not on how these contents
are developed, represented or processed. Even modifications in the
contents of representations are often the result of quantitative changes.
The bilinguals CUCB is larger than a unilinguals conceptual base,
but does not differ in its structure or modus operandi. At no level of
language or conceptual functioning is there anything in bilinguals that
would involve an entity that is not available to unilinguals. There is
therefore no need to assume the existence of any kind of cerebral function
or mechanism that is specific to bilingual individuals.


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