Can a bilingual lexicon be sustained by phonotactics alone?
Evidence from Ecuadoran Quichua and Media Lengua
This study focuses on bilingual speakers of Ecuadoran Quichua and the mixed language known as Media Lengua, which consists of Quichua morphosyntactic frames with all content word roots relexified from Spanish. For all intents and purposes, only the lexicon – more specifically, lexical roots – separate Media Lengua from Quichua, and yet speakers generally manage to keep the two languages apart in production and are able to unequivocally distinguish the languages in perception tasks. Two main questions drive the research effort. The first, given the very close relationships between Quichua and Media Lengua, is whether each language has a distinct lexicon, or a single lexical repository is shared by the two languages. A second and closely related question is the extent to which language-specific phonotactic patterns aid in language identification, possibly even to the extent of constituting the only robust language-tagging mechanism in a joint lexicon. Using lexical-decision and false-memory tasks to probe the Quichua-Media Lengua bilingual lexical repertoire, the results are consistent with a model based on a single lexicon, partially differentiated by subtle phonotactic cues, and bolstered by contemporary participants’ knowledge of Spanish as well as Quichua.