Do Cognates Facilitate the Processing of Codeswitched Sentences?

Open Access
Iffert, Madeline A
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Paola Eulalia Dussias, Thesis Supervisor
  • John Lipski, Honors Advisor
  • codeswitching
  • cognates
  • processing
  • bilingual
  • Spanish-English
  • code-switching
  • switch cost
Codeswitching is a linguistic phenomenon in which a speaker seamlessly alternates between two different languages in a single discourse. Codeswitching has been perceived by some as a degeneration of language. However, studies have shown that codeswitching actually demonstrates an advanced command of both languages. As more research was performed, evidence of some switch cost was suggested; that is, there is a processing delay at the language switch point. Some studies have shown that there may be ways to mitigate these costs. It is thought that more frequent switches are easier for comprehenders to process. The present study investigated whether cognate words could potentially mitigate these switch costs. Because cognates are words that are similar or identical in both languages, it is believed that cognates make both lexicons more readily available, enabling the brain to switch more rapidly between the two languages. Additionally, the perceived frequency of these words is higher than that of non-cognate words. These features may make processing the language easier and faster. In this study I compared different types of sentences to determine whether readers were able to process codeswitched sentences more quickly by virtue of encountering a cognate verb directly before the switch. An eye-tracking device was used to measure the fixations of participants’ eye as they read the sentences. I predicted that sentences with a cognate verb directly before the switch would be easier for the reader to process than those with a non-cognate verb before the switch. The findings showed that cognate verbs did not have an effect on the processing of codeswitched sentences. In fact, results demonstrated that participants were actually able to read codeswitched sentences more quickly than non-codeswitched sentences, regardless of whether the predicate was preceded by a cognate or non-cognate. It was also interesting to find that there was no evidence of the cognate facilitation effect.