Psychology ETDs

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Verbal fluency tasks are used extensively in clinical settings because of their sensitivity to a wide variety of disorders, including cognitive decline and dementia, and their usefulness in differential diagnoses. However, the effects of bilingualism on neuropsychological assessment, and verbal fluency in particular, are currently not completely understood. There is an increasing need to examine bilingualisms role in assessing verbal fluency due to the rapidly growing Hispanic population within the United States. This study investigated the performance of bilingual Hispanics in phonemic fluency compared to monolingual European-Americans using the Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT). Both the standard letters of 'F', 'A', and 'S' and alternative letters were tested in an attempt to find letters that would be linguistically and culturally fair for both monolinguals and bilinguals. Various aspects of bilingualism, such as language dominance and age of acquisition of a second language, as well as acculturative factors, were examined to determine their influences on phonemic fluency. Results revealed that both language dominance and age of acquisition heavily influence phonemic fluency performance for Hispanic bilinguals. Bilingual students who were English dominant or balanced bilingual scored on par with the monolingual students. Also, bilingual students who learned their second language by the age of six performed better than those who learned their second language later. The acculturative factors of social affiliation and ethnic identification affected performance as well. Early age of acquisition bilingual participants who were better acculturated to mainstream society scored higher in phonemic fluency than those who were not as well acculturated. These results pinpoint the clinical importance of obtaining a full linguistic background of a bilingual client in order to interpret verbal fluency performance accurately so that the client may be properly diagnosed and treated.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Thoma, Robert

Second Committee Member

Haaland, Kathleen

Third Committee Member

Ortiz, Irene




Verbal ability--Psychological aspects, Bilingualism--Psychological aspects, Language acquisition--Psychological aspects.

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