Neurophysiological indices of the effect of cognates on vowel perception in late Spanish-English bilinguals

Tessel, Carol A.; Levy, Erika S.; Gitterman, Martin; Shafer, Valerie L.

It is well established that acquiring a second language (L2) later in life results in less accurate production and perception of speech sounds in the L2. Languages like Spanish and English have many common words (cognates) and similar sounds, learning how the combination of cognate status and sound similarity can affect processing and lexical access in an L2 is of interest to educators.

In the present study, fifteen monolingual English-speakers and 15 late Spanish-English bilinguals were presented with Spanish-English cognates and non-cognates. Event related potentials (ERP) were used to determine whether late L2-learners had more difficulty discriminating mispronunciations of vowels in English words that have Spanish cognates compared to words that do not have cognates. Behavioral results indicated effects of language background differences, but not cognate status, on participants’ ability to discriminate mispronunciations of English vowels, with bilinguals showing poorer discrimination. ERP results revealed that cognate words facilitated L2 phonological processing as evidenced by a larger frontal positive component (P400) ERP effect, similar in amplitude to the P400 from monolinguals. Results suggest that cognate words facilitate not only vocabulary acquisition, but also speech processing, in adult L2 learners, and, thus, may also be useful as a tool for perceptual learning.


Also Published In

Journal of Phonetics

More About This Work

Academic Units
Communication Sciences and Disorders
Published Here
June 29, 2020


Key Words: bilingualism, cognates, event-related potential (ERP), second language acquisition, speech perception, vowel perception, Spanish-English