The representation of cognates and interlingual homographs in the bilingual lexicon

Poort, E. D. (2019). The representation of cognates and interlingual homographs in the bilingual lexicon. PhD Thesis, University College London, London, UK.
Cognates and interlingual homographs are words that exist in multiple languages. Cognates, like “wolf” in Dutch and English, also carry the same meaning. Interlingual homographs do not: the word “angel” in English refers to a spiritual being, but in Dutch to the sting of a bee. The six experiments included in this thesis examined how these words are represented in the bilingual mental lexicon. Experiment 1 and 2 investigated the issue of task effects on the processing of cognates. Bilinguals often process cognates more quickly than single-language control words (like “carrot”, which exists in English but not Dutch). These experiments showed that the size of this cognate facilitation effect depends on the other types of stimuli included in the task. These task effects were most likely due to response competition, indicating that cognates are subject to processes of facilitation and inhibition both within the lexicon and at the level of decision making. Experiment 3 and 4 examined whether seeing a cognate or interlingual homograph in one’s native language affects subsequent processing in one’s second language. This method was used to determine whether non-identical cognates share a form representation. These experiments were inconclusive: they revealed no effect of cross-lingual long-term priming. Most likely this was because a lexical decision task was used to probe an effect that is largely semantic in nature. Given these caveats to using lexical decision tasks, two final experiments used a semantic relatedness task instead. Both experiments revealed evidence for an interlingual homograph inhibition effect but no cognate facilitation effect. Furthermore, the second experiment found evidence for a small effect of cross-lingual long-term priming. After comparing these findings to the monolingual literature on semantic ambiguity resolution, this thesis concludes that it is necessary to explore the viability of a distributed connectionist account of the bilingual mental lexicon.
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