In this talk evidence from a series of research projects on receptive multilingualism is presented. The general focus of this research is on the capacity of multilinguals to infer the meaning of cognate words and whole texts in languages with which they have little or no familiarity. More specifically, the goal is to understand whether and how the multilingual repertoire can facilitate comprehension in target languages that are more or less closely related to languages known by the participant.
Two groups of factors are considered for their potential influence on the probability of correctly inferring respective meaning: the first group relates to the individuals involved in the research studies, and includes such characteristics as the number of languages spoken, age, intelligence, working memory, language aptitude, etc. The second group of factors relates to the languages studied and focuses on item-related variance, i.e. inter-lingual contrastivity, word frequency, etc.
A number of different research methods are discussed, such as thinking aloud protocols and paper and pencil tasks, as well as experimental paradigms. The main results presented show sometimes surprising effects or absence of effect in both the participant- and item-related analyses.
Based on the empirical evidence presented, a theory of the inter-lingual inferencing processes is developed drawing on Peirce's notion of abduction.