Exploring the limits of language non-selectivity: How do multilinguals process non-native cognates and interlingual homographs in sentences? 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2022

Abstract

When a bi- or multilingual reads a word in one language, does he/she automatically activate lexical representations from all his/her languages? This is what the widely accepted language non-selective account suggests, but the studies that support this hypothesis evince various methodological pitfalls. In a multilingual context like Flanders, it is especially important to investigate multilingual language processing in a systematic and thorough manner, to achieve an accurate understanding of how multilinguals process languages in their everyday lives. By doing so, we can find a reliable answer to the question whether they access their mental lexicon in a language non-selective or a language selective manner. The vast majority of studies that have examined bi-/multilingual language processing have used cognates (words that exist in two languages with the same meaning, e.g., "water") or interlingual homographs (IHs; words with two different meanings in two different languages, e.g., "fee" is Dutch for "fairy") that exist in the native language (L1). However, it is exactly this native language that is supposedly qualitatively different from any other language that a multilingual knows, and, hence, using words that occur in L1 may yield results that are not representative of lexical processing in general. Besides, studies often show words in isolation, which is not how we normally read. The present proposal circumvents these issues by embedding L2-L3 cognates and IHs in sentences.

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