A robust demonstration of the cognate facilitation effect in first-language and second-language naming

Li Sheng, Boji Pak Wing Lam, Diana Cruz, Aislynn Fulton

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


The cognate facilitation effect refers to the phenomenon that in bilinguals performance on various vocabulary tasks is enhanced for cross-linguistic cognates as opposed to noncognates. However, research investigating the presence of the cognate advantage in bilingual children remains limited. Most studies with children conducted to date has not included a control group or rigorously designed stimuli, which may jeopardize the validity and robustness of the emerging evidence. The current study addressed these methodological problems by examining performance in picture naming tasks in 34 4- to 7-year-old Spanish-English bilinguals and 52 Mandarin-English bilinguals as well as 37 English-speaking monolinguals who served as controls. Stimuli were controlled for phonology, word frequency, and length. The Spanish-English bilinguals performed better for cognates than for noncognates and exhibited a greater number of doublet responses (i.e., providing correct responses in both languages) in naming cognate targets than in naming noncognates. The control groups did not show differences in performance between the two sets of words. These findings provide compelling evidence that cross-linguistic similarities at the phonological level allow bootstrapping of vocabulary learning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-238
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognate
  • Cross-linguistic bootstrapping
  • Facilitation
  • Mandarin-English
  • Naming
  • Spanish-English

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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