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Reading authentic texts: What counts as cognate?*



Most research on cognates has focused on words presented in isolation that are easily defined as cognate between L1 and L2. In contrast, this study investigates what counts as cognate in authentic texts and how such cognates are read. Participants with L1 Danish read news articles in their highly proficient L2, English, while their eye-movements were monitored. The experiment shows a cognate advantage for morphologically simple words, but only when cognateness is defined relative to translation equivalents that are appropriate in the context. For morphologically complex words, a cognate disadvantage is observed which may be due to problems of integrating cognate with non-cognate morphemes. The results show that fast non-selective access to the bilingual lexicon is conditioned by the communicative context. Importantly, a range of variables are statistically controlled in the regression analyses, including word predictability indexed by the conditional probability of each word.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Dalgas Have 15, 2Ø.079, DK-2000 Frederiksberg,


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Many thanks to Martin Haulrich for providing conditional word probabilities, to Annette C. Sjørup and Kristian T. Hvelplund for help with assessing cognateness, and to Inger M. Mees and two anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts of this article. I am also grateful to the audience at the 7th International Conference on the Mental Lexicon in Windsor, July 2010, for their input.



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