BEING MULTILINGUAL

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AThEME has published its final European Policy Brief on multilingualism and cognitive aspects.

Based on AThEME research findings, this fifth policy brief is complementary to its fourth policy brief aimed at increasing the general understanding of interactions involving non-native speakers from a linguistic, cognitive and social perspective. It investigates children and adults speaking or learning different languages in different communities and educational contexts.

Published on the European Commission website showcasing Social Sciences & Humanities research:

European Policy Brief: Cognitive Aspects II

 

AThEME has published its fourth European Policy Brief, this time on multilingualism and cognitive aspects.

Based on AThEME research findings, this fourth policy brief is aimed at increasing the general understanding of interactions involving non-native speakers from a linguistic, cognitive and social perspective, by describing research and outlining policy implications/recommendations on situations involving speakers of foreign languages as well as speakers of regional varieties of the same language.

Also published on the European Commission website showcasing Social Sciences & Humanities research:

European Policy Brief: Cognitive Aspects I

What do childhood bilingualism and musical training at an early age have in common when it comes to detecting prosody (i.e. rhythm, intonation and tone)? A new study by AThEME researchers from the University of Nova Gorica and the French National Centre for Scientific Research suggests that both types of experience enhance children’s sensitivity to prosodic information. Specifically, researchers found that either experience increased the children’s ability to distinguish between different prosodic patterns in an unknown language.

Published (open access) in:

This article is a collaboration between AThEME partners CNRS-L2C2 (French National Centre for Scientific Research L2C2) and the Center for Cognitive Science of Language at the University of Nova Gorica in Slovenia.

The aim of this research was to replicate existing studies by testing both adult L2 learners and child early bilinguals, using the same experimental material in both studies, and comparing both populations to monolingual controls. Adult French L2 learners of English and Spanish (in their two languages) as well as monolingual controls were tested in a first experiment, and child early bilinguals (in their two languages, Slovenian and Italian) as well as monolingual controls were tested in the second experiment.

Appears in:

Does degree of bilingualism influence executive functioning (i.e. cognitive processes including attention and working memory) in children, and, if so, is this effect sustained over time? That is exactly what researchers from the Fryske Akademy, the University of Amsterdam, Leiden University and Utrecht University attempted to find out in this new study focusing on Frisian-Dutch* bilingual children. Researchers had 120 Frisian-Dutch bilingual children (5- and 6-year-olds) perform two attention and two working memory tasks. These tests were then repeated on two more occasions.

The results of this study show that degree of bilingualism – defined in terms of language balance – has a positive effect on the children’s executive functioning. However, the effect was temporary and limited to selective attention.

 

Published (open access) in:

 

*Frisian, or West Frisian as it is referred to outside of the Netherlands, is a regional minority language in the Netherlands. It is the second official language of the Dutch province of Fryslân and, as such, must be taught in Frisian primary schools for at least one hour a week.

In this particular study, researchers from Ghent University, the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University Pompeu Fabra and ICREA (Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats) in Barcelona, Spain have examined whether a foreign accent affects communication and the behaviour a native speaker adopts when having a conversation with a speaker that has a foreign accent. They set up an experiment using a referential communication game in which participants received instructions either from a native speaker or a foreign-accented speaker.

It turned out that native speakers do not change their behaviour when communicating with someone with a foreign accent. These results replicate findings from previous studies. Native speakers didn’t adopt a more ‘helpful’ way of communicating (compared to communicating with a native speaker) but they also didn’t change their communication ‘for the worse’ (perhaps informed by a negative bias toward speakers with a foreign accent). As the researchers conclude in this article: “Results show that native speakers do not change their behaviour when communicating with a foreign-accented speaker, hence, suggesting that perspective taking is not affected by the native-ness of one’s conversational partner’s accent.

 

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Foucart, A. & Costa, A.. Taking a foreign perspective. Does a foreign accent affect communication? 

One of the advantages of being bi-/multi-lingual is said to connect to the inhibitory control system that one uses to switch from one language to the other. To speak L2, one has to suppress L1. To understand this system better, the study reported in this article pays attention to the mode that a participant is in (the native L1 mode, the non-native L2 mode, or a mode where both L1 and L2 are used equally). This study shows that the particular mode that a participant is in crucially determines how the inhibitory control works. When a participant is in the L2 mode, L2 functions more like an L1, leading to the same inhibitory control behaviour that we find if the participant is in the L1 mode. In other words, suppressing L2 can yield the same inhibitory control as suppressing L1 if one is in an L2 mode.

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In this article researchers test the grammatical and pragmatic abilities of earlier bilinguals in comparison with monolinguals. The results show that though bilinguals underperformed in grammatical tests, they outperformed monolinguals in pragmatic abilities. The researchers traced this bilingual advantage to a more general bilingual advantage in executive control: bilinguals have more cognitive resources which help them to have a better grip on non-linguistic information.

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The aim of this article is to investigate the impact of the linguistic distance on morphological processing in native and non-native speakers. Experimental evidence from Basque-Spanish and Spanish-Basque early and highly proficient bilinguals suggests that when L1 and L2 differ significantly in grammatical characteristics (as in Basque and Spanish), the characteristics of the L1 grammar, regardless of whether there are aspects that are similar to L2, have a deep impact on the way L2 is processed.

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Researchers investigated early bilinguals (bilingual in Spanish and Basque from birth), and tested their processing of Spanish. Though all participants achieved high level proficiency, those who are “Spanish-dominant” due to daily use showed different processing from those who are “Basque-dominant” (due to daily use). The study concludes that language dominance (through daily use) is an important factor when we consider the early stages of the attrition process.

This article was published in:

  • Caffarra, S., Zimnukhova, S., & Mancini, S. (2016)
    What usage can do: The effect of language dominance on simultaneous bilinguals’ morphosyntactic processing.
    Linguistics Vanguard, 2, 43-53. Doi: 10.1515/lingvan-2016-0020.