Cross-language activation during word recognition in child second-language learners and the role of executive function

Freya Gastmann, Greg Poarch*

*Corresponding author for this work

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We investigated lexical retrieval processes in 4- to 6-year-old German–English bilinguals by exploring cross-language activation during second-language (L2) word recognition of cognates and noncognates in semantically related and unrelated contexts in young learners of English. Both button presses (reaction times and accuracies) and eye-tracking data (percentage looks to target) yielded a significant cognate facilitation effect, indicating that the children’s performance was boosted by cognate words. Nonetheless, the degree of phonological overlap of cognates did not modulate their performance. Moreover, a semantic interference effect was found in the children’s eye movement data. However, in these young L2 learners, cognate status exerted a comparatively stronger impact on L2 word recognition than semantic relatedness. Finally, correlational analyses on the cognate and noncognate performance and the children’s executive function yielded a significant positive correlation between noncognate performance and their inhibitory control, suggesting that noncognate processing depended to a greater extent on inhibitory control than cognate processing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105443
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Sep-2022


  • Bilingualism
  • Word recognition
  • Eye tracking
  • Semantic relatedness
  • Cognates
  • Executive function

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