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International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching

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Volume 55, Issue 1 (Mar 2017)


Interactions between formal distance and participant-related variables in receptive multilingualism

Jan Vanhove
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Multilingualism, University of Fribourg, Rue de Rome 1, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
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/ Raphael Berthele
Published Online: 2017-01-25 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/iral-2017-0007


Recognizing cognates in a related but unknown language (Lx) is of key importance in receptive multilingualism. Many studies have consequently investigated the impact of both item-related characteristics (most notably the cognates’ formal distance to their L1/L2 counterparts) and participant-related variables (e. g., the make-up of the participants’ linguistic repertoires) on Lx cognate recognition. However, little is known about how these two factors interact with one another. Using data from a lifespan study on Lx (Swedish) cognate recognition in German-speaking participants, we investigate how the effect of the Lx cognates’ formal distance to their L1/L2 counterparts varies as a function of the participants’ richness of linguistic experience and their ability to deal with abstract patterns flexibly (‘fluid intelligence’). We do so for both written and spoken stimuli. The results underscore that the relationship between formal distance and recognition in receptive multilingualism, and cross-linguistic influence more generally, may vary systematically as a function of participant-related variables.

Keywords: receptive multilingualism; Levenshtein distance; perceived similarities; cognates


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-01-25

Published in Print: 2017-03-01

This is a revised and abridged version of Chapter 10 of the first author’s Ph.D. thesis (Vanhove 2014). The research reported was funded by a Sinergia research grant awarded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (project 130457, Multilingualism through the lifespan, PI: Raphael Berthele) and by private financial support provided by Dr. Ambros Boner. We thank Irmtraud Kaiser, Lenny Bugayong, and Nuria Ristin-Kaufmann for their help in collecting the data. The data and R code used for the analyses are available from http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1172058.

Citation Information: International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, ISSN (Online) 1613-4141, ISSN (Print) 0019-042X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/iral-2017-0007.

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