Effect of language proficiency and executive control on verbal fluency performance in bilinguals.


We use a time-course analysis to examine the roles of vocabulary size and executive control in bilinguals’ verbal fluency performance. Two groups of bilinguals and a group of monolingual adults were tested in English with verbal fluency subtests from the Delis–Kaplan Executive Function System. The two bilingual groups were equivalent in their self-rated English proficiency but differed in levels of receptive and expressive vocabulary. We hypothesized that the difference between the two bilingual groups in vocabulary and between the monolingual and bilingual groups in executive control would lead to differences in performance on the category and letter fluency tests and dissociate the roles of vocabulary knowledge and executive control in verbal production. Bilinguals and monolinguals performed equivalently in category fluency, but the high-vocabulary bilingual group outperformed both monolinguals and low-vocabulary bilinguals in letter fluency. An analysis of the retrieval time-course functions in letter fluency showed dissociable effects of resources available at the initiation of the trial, considered to reflect vocabulary size, and ability to monitor and retrieve new items using a novel phonemic-based word searching strategy, considered to reflect executive control. The difference in slope of the best-fitting curves reflected enhanced executive control for both bilingual groups compared to monolinguals, whereas the difference in the starting point of the logarithmic functions reflected higher levels of vocabulary for high-vocabulary bilinguals and monolinguals compared to low-vocabulary bilinguals. The results are discussed in terms of the contributions of linguistic resources and executive control to verbal performance.