On abduction in receptive multilingualism.
Evidence from cognate guessing tasks
Most researchers agree on the idea that multilinguals have speciﬁc advantages
over monolinguals in learning more languages and, more generally, develop
speciﬁc competencies for expanding and managingtheir multilingual repertoire.
Of particular interest, most notably in the context of the European strive for
the upward revaluation of smaller, less used languages, is the development of
receptive competences in several genetically closely related languages (cf. e.g.
This contribution presents empirical evidence that, on the one hand, seems
to support the claim that multilinguals are more efﬁcient in developing receptive
competences in new, previously unlearnt languages. The article focuses on the
question how multilinguals use their languages in order to guess the meaning of
cognates in unlearnt but genealogically close languages. A series of studies is
discussed whose aim is to tap into this process of interlingual inferencing. Dif-
ferent measures for phonological and graphematic distances across languages
are established and correlated with the rates of successful cognate recognition in
the search for a threshold of string similarity beyond which recognition becomes
unlikely. The role of different types of the participants’ multilingual repertoires
is assessed, and other factors inﬂuencing good performance in cognate recog-
nition are identiﬁed. The process of interlingual inferencing is discussed as a
form of abductive reasoning, and quantitative and qualitative data are analyzed
to support the idea that this type of abduction is an essential driving force in
receptive multilingualism and language comprehension in general.