Cognate Effect in Bilingual Processing

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Bilinguals and their capacity to store two or more languages and where such language information is stored has been the major focus of researchers. This research and related studies into bilingual processing led to the cognate effect as a means of explaining how bilinguals process language. The cognate effect and how it is related to language processing in the mind of a bilingual, is further explained using the models of bilingual memory. The three diagrams or models that sufficiently explicate the cognate effect are the Conceptual Feature Model, Cognate Catalan-Spanish, and translation of Cognates and Non-cognates. Additional research into cognate effect in bilingual processing shed more light on how bilinguals store language information, where in the memory system the bilingual lexicon is represented, and how bilinguals are able to separate or integrate their acquired lexical semantic representations.

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The dictionarys meaning of the word cognate is a word that is related in terms of origin to another word. An example given here is the English word brother and the German bruder (Kroll, 1994). As can be seen, the two words are cognates in that they have the same meaning and almost similar spellings yet they are found in two different languages. In addition, when comparing the two words, one seems to notice that they have the same origin. The effect of this cognate in the study of bilingualism is that individuals whose native language is English and thus fluent in it and familiar with the vocabulary will not fail to recognize and be in a position to translate L1 English cognates, thus, from the example above, they will easily note the cognate of brother as it appears in German and also any other cognates that may appear in the same language or different languages.

Just to highlight further, cognates are words with similar meaning and share the same phonological form in two languages. These are words that may historically have a common origin or borrowed form third party language or one of the two languages that is generated from (Cognate (words), 2015). For instance the obvious cognates do borrow from each other in English and Russia, they borrow from other languages more so French, Latin and Greek. Subsequent studies have demonstrated that bilinguals do process highly form similar cognates differently from other words. Bilingual research poses a central question on cognition and language on specifically how bilinguals activate and process words in their two languages as well as how they regulate their two language systems. This has resulted in two theoretical views proposed in literature. Notably, bilinguals only activates word candidates basically from the language which is relevant contextually (Costa, 2000).

The evidence on nonselective language activation originates from studies that use a wide range of bilinguals that together do different tasks, such as recognition alongside production tasks. In the greater part of these studies, bilinguals processed a photo or a word in isolation. This is done without surrounding a context of linguistic which may inform the lexical activation process of the word or picture. Dijkstra et al. 1999 observed the cognate effect that was again replicated in another study of lexical decision by Costa, 2000.. Similarly, these cognate effects were observed in other wide range of studies in recognition and production tasks that were performed by bilinguals that took into account the progressive demasking (Dijkstra et al., 1999). It was at this point that picture name was performed as observed by Costa, 2000.

Ordinarily, cognates doesnt need to have the same meaning, this is because the meanings might have changed in the process of languages developing separately. This can be exemplified in the word English starve and Dutch sterven or even German sterben to die notably, these three words are all derived from similar proto-Germanic root, sterbang (die). These words gives a clear sample of cognate effect and how it affects the meanings of various words (Costa, 2000). At some point the meaning changes completely but at certain points the meaning does not change at all.

The BIA model suggests a clear mechanism by which orthographic form is activated in two languages especially if a bilingual identifies and recognizes the words presented visually. A parallel activation is done on languages with similar orthographies and this culminates in competition both at sub-lexical and lexical levels. This action of the model had been investigated through exploitation of the words present whose form overlaps across many languages. These takes into consideration cognates, the pairs of translation that share both word and meaning (interlingual homographs), the words that are basically similar in form in different or both languages but are different in translations (Kroll, 1994). Note that if lexical access is nonselective in all languages, then the consequences of cross language operations ought to influence recognition performance. But if lexical access is selective, the presence of other language form ought to be irrelevant and the processing ought to go on in similar manner for monolingual reader.

Conceptual feature model is presented as a model of lexicosemantic organization that is generally compatible with the RHM. This model assists in describing the specific nature of the connection between mental concepts and their respective lexical representations in every language that is known by the individual. The conceptual feature model identifies any additional message-related variables which might impact effectiveness of messages. Consequently, series of propositions are then advanced that thereafter apply and extend the conceptual feature model to an advertising context. CFM is further used as the theoretical foundation that supports that argument that different language mental schemas might be activated by the people more so when a consumer-related concept is presented or aired. Notably the activated schema fully depends on language that the concept is presented in congruity based affect ( HYPERLINK "" \o "David Crystal" Crystal, David, ed. 2011). Below is a diagram of CFM.

A study of bilingualism from a psycholinguistic and neurocognitive standpoint seeks to avail much as far as bilingualism is concerned. Such studies seek to answer questions as to how an individual acquires, understands, produces and controls languages and what are the cognitive effects of bilingualism to an individual. The interest in bilingualism represents the importance that bilingualism holds. A world without bilinguals would mean that the world would be filled with monolinguals and to communicate with an individual that does not speak your language, one would be forced to using gestures. This would make the world a dull and lonely place to be where individuals would live as islands and not a community that we so much embrace presently. Words activation in bilingual memory functions in a parallel-language non-selective manner (De Groot, A. and G. Nas, 1991).

Essentially, a bilingual has more than one lexical representation in case he wants to express a meaning. Common bilinguals are an English-French bilingual. Such an individual has English as their L1 and French as their second language. In such a case, the individual can either use the English word dog or French word chien in case he wants to refer to a barking animal kept at home (Desmet and Duyck, 2007, p. 169). Such an ability, where the individual is able to produce words from only one language implies that bilinguals can exercise control over selection of language to use and produce it in speech. According to a past discovery, when such an individual is about to speak while intending to speak in English, for example, information from the non-target language, which is French, is also being accessed. This phenomenon is known as cross-language interaction and occurs in bilinguals with different language combinations and levels of proficiency.


Cognate (words). (2015). Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms. Retrieved from HYPERLINK ""

Desmet, T. & Duyck, W. (2007). Bilingual Language Processing. Ghent University. Retrieved from HYPERLINK ""

HYPERLINK "" \o "David Crystal" Crystal, David, ed. (2011). HYPERLINK "" "cognate". A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics (6th ed.). HYPERLINK "" \o "Blackwell Publishing" Blackwell Publishing. p. 104

Costa, A., Caramazza, A. and N. Sebastian-Galles (2000) The cognate facilitation effect: implications for models of lexical access. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition 26(5): 1283-1296.

De Groot, A. and G. Nas (1991) Lexical representation of cognates and noncognates in compound bilinguals. Journal of Memory and Language 30: 90-123.

Kroll, Judith F. and Erika Stewart (1994), "Cateory Interference In Translation And Picture Naming: Evidence For Asymmetric Connections Between Bilingual Memory Representations," Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 149-174.

Dijkstra, T., Grainger, J. and W.1.B. Van Heuven (1999) Recognition of cognates and interlingual homographs: the neglected role of phonology. Journal of Memory and Language 41 (4): 496-518.

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