The impact of cognate vocabulary on explicit L2 rule learning




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According to Hopp’s Lexical Bottleneck Hypothesis, difficulties in second language (L2) lexical processing may lead to non-target syntactic computations. In line with this hypothesis, cognates – which are processed faster than non-cognates, as defined by the cognate facilitation effect – can ease L2 syntactic processing. In order to investigate whether cognates additionally facilitate L2 syntax learning, we had two groups of Spanish natives learn an artificial language drawing on Basque. Each group explicitly learnt a set of either Spanish–Basque cognates or non-cognates and a word order grammatical rule. Then, two sentence–picture matching tasks tested their ability to apply the rule (1) with cognates vs. non-cognates and (2) with novel cognate words. Results showed that, in both cases, cognate learners were better at applying the rule than non-cognate learners. This finding suggests that the cognate facilitation effect and its role in the Lexical Bottleneck Hypothesis can be extended from L2 processing to L2 learning. We end by mentioning possible implications of our results for second language teaching in adulthood.

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