L2 Idiom Processing: A Study Investigating Cognate Effects in English Idiomatic Expressions.

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Research on L2 idiom processing does not agree on how idioms are processed in the L2 because different methods have yielded different and often opposing results. Where some studies claim L2 idiom processing is identical or similar to L1 idiom processing, meaning that idioms are stored as one lexical entry in the bilingual’s mental lexicon, other studies claim L2 idiom processing is different from L1 idiom processing. To investigate L2 idiom processing in a new, original manner, focus needs to be on particular words that typically show deviating reading times in sentences: cognates. Cognates are usually processed faster in the L2 than words without orthographic and/or phonological overlap with the L1. This is called the Cognate Facilitation Effect. Therefore, the present experiment examined how idiomatic expressions are processed in the L2 by investigating cognate effects in English idiomatic expressions and regular control sentences using a Self-Paced Reading Task. The role of L2 proficiency in potential cognate effects and L2 idiom processing was examined as well. Results showed cognate effects to be present for the cognates in the regular control sentences, but not in the sentences containing an idiom. This pointed towards deviant processing and storage of idioms in the L2 when compared to regular sentences. No correlation between proficiency scores and cognate effects were found in the present experiment.
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