Lexical organization and competition in first and second languages: Computational and neural mechanisms

Ping Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


How does a child rapidly acquire and develop a structured mental organization for the vast number of words in the first years of life? How does a bilingual individual deal with the even more complicated task of learning and organizing two lexicons? It is only until recently have we started to examine the lexicon as a dynamical system with regard to its acquisition, representation, and organization. In this article, I outline a proposal based on our research that takes the dynamical approach to the lexicon, and I discuss how this proposal can be applied to account for lexical organization, structural representation, and competition within and between languages. In particular, I provide computational evidence based on the DevLex model, a self-organizing neural network model, and neuroimaging evidence based on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies, to illustrate how children and adults learn and represent the lexicon in their first and second languages. In the computational research, our goal has been to identify, through linguistically and developmentally realistic models, detailed cognitive mechanisms underlying the dynamic self-organizing processes in monolingual and bilingual lexical development; in the neuroimaging research, our goal has been to identify the neural substrates that subserve lexical organization and competition in the monolingual and the bilingual brain. In both cases, our findings lead to a better understanding of the interactive dynamics involved in the acquisition and representation of one or multiple languages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)629-664
Number of pages36
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Artificial Intelligence


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