Do word associations assess word knowledge? A comparison of L1 and L2, child and adult word associations

Marjolein Cremer*, Daphne Dingshoff, Meike de Beer, Rob Schoonen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Differences in word associations between monolingual and bilingual speakers of Dutch can reflect differences in how well seemingly familiar words are known. In this (exploratory) study mono-and bilingual, child and adult free word associations were compared. Responses of children and of monolingual speakers were found to be more dispersed across response categories than responses of adults and of L2 speakers, respectively. Log linear analyses show that the distributional patterns of association responses differ among the groups. Age has the largest effect on association responses. Adults give more meaning-related responses than children. Child L1 speakers give more meaning-related responses than child L2 speakers. Form-based and 'Other' associations were mostly given by (L2) children. The different findings for mono-and bilingual children and for mono-and bilingual adults show the influence of bilingualism on the development of word associations. The prominent effect of age emphasizes the role of conceptual development in word association behavior, and makes free word association tasks less suitable as an assessment tool for word knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-204
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


  • bilingualism
  • conceptual development
  • semantic networks
  • usage based
  • word associations
  • word knowledge

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