Chapter 4. Are cognate words “special”?

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One of the most remarkable abilities of bilingual speakers is that of keeping their two languages apart during speech production. Several researchers have argued that the attentional mechanisms responsible for this ability may vary depending on the L2-proficiency achieved by the bilinguals (Green, 1986; Costa & Santesteban, 2004). Here we use a language-switching task to further explore the extent to which these different attentional strategies depend on the cognate status of the words (Costa, Santesteban, & Caño, 2005). We also explore whether the production of cognates facilitates language-switching (Broersma & De Bot, 2006). Twenty-four low-proficient (L2-Learners) and twenty-four high-proficient (Bilinguals) Spanish-Catalan bilinguals performed a cued language-switching task including cognate and non-cognate words. Our results revealed the following: (a) responses to cognates were faster than to non-cognates; (b) the magnitude of the switching cost was similar regardless of the cognate status of either the preceding or the target word; (c) L2-Learners vs. Bilinguals showed different language switching cost patterns (replicating Costa & Santesteban, 2004). Overall, these findings suggest that the cognate status of words does not facilitate language switching and it does not alter the lexical selection mechanisms’ implicated during production.


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