Volitional code switching: Is there a cost?

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Bilinguals commonly commingle their languages when speaking among other bilinguals in a process known as code switching (CS). Previous studies have been equivocal on whether CS is cognitively demanding, as measured by a time cost. This study sought to identify and compare time cost in CS across two experimental paradigms: naturalistic conversation and self-paced reading. Eighteen participants of similar linguistic background (English-dominant second language learners of French) were recruited and completed both tasks. Results identified a time cost for CS in the conversation task, but not the self-paced reading task. The data were also analyzed for effect of CS direction (either L1 to L2 or vice versa). In the conversation task only, there was a greater time cost for switching from L1 into L2. These results suggest that, while time cost for CS exists, it is limited to tasks that require selection of lexical and syntactic schemas.