Poor vocabulary is linked to lower educational and vocational attainment. Adults with a history of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) have reduced vocabulary size and weaker lexical processing, which negatively impact word comprehension. Word comprehension, commonly measured by accuracy and speed (efficiency) on picture identification tasks, is a fundamental skill for further vocabulary development. For young bilingual adults, word comprehension efficiency is facilitated by the interaction between two languages that are active at the same time; words that share similar speech sounds and meaning across languages (cognates, e.g., English-Spanish pear-pera) are recognized more accurately and more quickly than words that share few to no speech sounds (noncognates, e.g., English-Spanish apple-manzana). Additionally, on a practical level, cognate facilitation supports learning in academic contexts. Studies in younger bilingual populations suggest that awareness of cognates promotes language comprehension and literacy. It is unclear whether bilingualism allows adults with a history of DLD to leverage cognate knowledge as an area of strength. Thus, the overall purpose of this work is to better understand whether and how cognate and noncognate word comprehension for bilingual adults is affected by a history of DLD. This proposed study falls within NIDCD?s mission to identify cognitive, linguistic, and behavioral factors associated with the long-term outcomes of language impairment in an understudied population. Implications of this work can inform policy and practice of student disability services in higher education. This proposed study seeks to recruit 50 young (18-21yo) Spanish-English bilingual adults with and without a history of DLD to participate in picture identification tasks (Aims 1-2) and interviews (Aim 3) designed to investigate bilingual word comprehension efficiency and usefulness of metalinguistic awareness of crosslinguistic facilitation. Specifically, the proposed study quantitatively and qualitatively investigates the effect of a history of DLD on cognate representation using accuracy from formal vocabulary tests that have been used in previous cognate studies (Aim 1), on cognate processing using eye-tracking methods (Aim 2), and on cognate usefulness using a cognate awareness test and phenomenological interview methods (Aim 3).

Public Health Relevance

There is currently no literature on whether and how a history of Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) intersects with bilingual adult?s cognitive-linguistic knowledge, processing, and functional language strategies in academic contexts. The lexicons of unimpaired bilinguals are known to be crosslinguistically integrated, with cognate words that overlap in sound and meaning (English-Spanish pear-pera) more strongly represented, more quickly processed, and available to promote academic vocabulary skills. This project quantitatively and qualitatively investigates the effect of a history of DLD on cognate words, an area of lexical strength for young bilingual adults, in comprehension efficiency (Aims 1-2) and in functionality of metalinguistic awareness for academic contexts (Aim 3).

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZDC1)
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Rivera-Rentas, Alberto L
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San Diego State University
San Diego
United States
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