The Effect of Cognates on Real-Time L2 Comprehension

Open Access
Kelly, Alison Kate
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Carrie Neal Jackson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Jens-Uwe Guettel, Honors Advisor
  • German
  • Cognates
  • Linguistics
  • Eye-tracking
  • Comprehension
  • English
  • Second Language
  • Processing
  • PIRE
Previous research suggests that L1 and L2 speakers are subject to interference from a number of conflicting linguistic cues (e.g., singular vs. plural number information on nouns and verbs) during comprehension (e.g., Patson & Husband, 2015), and that L2 populations are particularly susceptible to this interference (Cunnings, 2017). At the same time, L2 comprehension is facilitated by the presence of L1-L2 cognates, leading to more nativelike processing (e.g., Hopp, 2017). Using the visual world paradigm, the current study extends this research to investigate whether the presence of cognates can reduce interference during real-time sentence comprehension among L1 German-L2 English speakers. Thirty-two L1 German-L2 English speakers in Braunschweig, Germany listened to sentences with subject-verb anomalies (e.g., *The blackboard for the schools really were too old to use). Sentences varied according to whether the local noun and the verb were singular or plural and whether the local noun was a cognate (school) or a noncognate (office). We tracked participants’ attention to images of sentence referents (e.g., a screen with four pictures: a blackboard, two blackboards, a school, or two schools) during comprehension using visual world eye-tracking. This was paired with an offline interpretation measure where participants selected the image matching the sentence subject. Offline measures showed more looks to plural subjects in conditions with more plural cues with no significant difference between cognate and noncognate conditions. Online measures showed more looks to a plural subject in cognate rather than noncognate conditions. Together, these results highlight ways in which cognates can have a subtle impact on real-time language processing, even when their impact on the final interpretation of a sentence is minimal.