A limiting case of bilingual language identification: the Quichua-Media Lengua lexicon

  • Lipski, John (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


How do people who know more than one language recognize which language they are hearing at a given time? And how much of a language must be heard in order to make a positive identification? In most circumstances many features, including sound patterns, grammatical structures, and vocabulary items, simultaneously distinguish the languages and identification is rapid and seemingly effortless. Little is known, however, about the relative contribution of each component, and there are few language combinations that allow for isolating a single feature, with all other factors being equal. Investigating language processing in bilingual speakers is important for testing the limits of bilingualism: what features do speakers use to keep languages apart?

This research project examines data from bilingual speakers of Ecuadoran Quichua and the mixed language known as Media Lengua, which consists of Quichua grammatical frames with all word roots replaced by their Spanish counterparts but pronounced as though they were Quichua. Media Lengua is related to Quichua much as Lewis Carroll's poem 'Jabberwocky' is related to English, e.g. ''Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe'; the difference is that the non-Quichua roots come from another real language, Spanish. Quichua-Media Lengua bilinguals provide a unique environment in which to determine whether speakers maintain separate lexicons (word repositories) for each language or a single word-bank with some sort of language-tagging with accompanying grammatical and phonetic information. The project will employ a variety of techniques to explore the mechanisms that allow for language identification, reactions to language mixing when no grammatical differences intervene, and long-term prospects for mixed languages like Media Lengua. The project will train graduate students in experimental field methods. The project will enhance the value and prestige of less commonly studied and often stigmatized languages and language varieties.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date6/15/1811/30/22


  • National Science Foundation: $249,534.00


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