Volume 18, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1871-1340
  • E-ISSN: 1871-1375
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Cognates, words that are similar in form and meaning across two languages, form compelling test cases for bilingual access and representation. Overwhelmingly, cognate pairs are subjectively selected in a categorical either- or manner, often with criteria and modality unspecified. Yet the few studies that take a more nuanced approach, selecting cognate pairs along a continuum of overlap, show interesting, albeit somewhat divergent results. This study compares three measures that quantify cognateness continuously to obtain modality-specific cognate scores for the same set of Norwegian-English word-translation pairs: (1) Researcher Intuitions – bilingual researchers rate the degree of overlap between the paired words, (2) Levenshtein Distance – an algorithm that computes overlap between word pairs, and (3) Translation Elicitation – English-speaking monolinguals guess what Norwegian words mean. Results demonstrate that cognateness can be ranked on a continuum and reveal measure and modality-specific effects. Orthographic presentation yields higher cognateness status than auditory presentation overall. Though all three measures intercorrelated moderately to highly, Researcher Intuitions demonstrated a bimodal distribution, yielding scores on the high and low end of the spectrum, consistent with the common categorical approach in the field. Levenshtein Distance would be preferred for fine-grained distinctions along the continuum of form overlap.


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Keyword(s): cognates; false friends; Levenshtein; multilingualism; translation
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