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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.

This study, developed by the University of Verona (Italy), in collaboration with the University of Trento (Italy) and the Xiamen University (China), sheds light on the relationship between bilingualism and developmental dyslexia by comparing the performance of monolingual and bilingual children, with and without a diagnosis of dyslexia, in a task set up to assess metalinguistic and morphological awareness.

Preliminary findings suggest that a bilingual advantage extends to children with dyslexia. This is an exciting and important finding for all the educators, speech therapists and teachers who think that bilingualism may have a negative influence on dyslexia and therefore may tend to provide families of dyslexic children with negative advice when it comes to bilingualism. The results of this study show that in many cases bilingualism can even act as a positive, protective factor on dyslexia, especially in enhancing the subjects’ metalinguistic and morphological awareness.

Published in:

  • Maria Vender, Shenai Hu, Federica Mantione, Silvia Savazzi, Denis Delfitto & Chiara Melloni (2018). Inflectional morphology: evidence for an advantage of bilingualism in dyslexia, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, DOI: 10.1080/13670050.2018.1450355.

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.

 

(to appear)

 

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

Residents of nursing homes often find it difficult to develop (new) social relationships with other residents, even though these social relationships can contribute to quality of life, life meaning and satisfaction and feelings of belonging. Until now, little research has been done on the role language practices can play in encouraging residents to develop and maintain these social networks.

For this particular study, researchers from the The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) spent time collecting data at a relatively large nursing home in Maastricht in the Netherlands. By observing participants and conducting informal interviews, they explored the development of social networks among residents during different settings in the common area of the nursing home.

The results of this study show that language is an important factor for nursing home residents to be able to develop a social network. Due to the associations people make with linguistic features, residents prefer to develop a social network with those who are perceived to speak the same language or dialect.

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.

(to appear)

This article is a direct collaboration between three AThEME partners (the University of Verona, the French National Centre for Scientific Research CNRS-IKER and Utrecht University). It consists of three case studies based on three geographic areas, each investigating a specific grammar change phenomenon in which multilingual competence plays a key role: (i) Friesland, The Netherlands (ii) the Region Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol and (iii) the Basque Country.

Researchers found that grammar change results from interaction of the feature systems of the languages in contact. Specifically, Frisian verbs take over features from the Dutch language, and Cimbrian, a Germanic minority language, takes over characteristics of subordinating conjunctions found in surrounding Romance languages. These two cases illustrate a minority language taking over features from a majority language. The reverse also happens: a majority language taking over features from a minority language, as the researchers found in Spanish interrogative constructions produced by certain Basque-Spanish bilingual speakers. In particular, Basque “interrogative characteristics” have been found in Spanish interrogative sentences produced by bilingual speakers.

These finding are important in that they underline the bilateral nature of linguistic relations and the interconnectivity between the speakers by means of taking over aspects from each other’s language.

Minority languages in language contact situations: three case studies on language change (Nov 2016)

 

This article is also published in the journal ‘Us Wurk’:

  • Padovan, Andrea; Alessandra, Tomaselli; Bergstra, Myrthe; Corver, Norbert; Etxepare, Ricardo; Dold, SimonMinority languages in language contact situations: three case studies on language change Us Wurk, vol. Jiergong 65 (2016), n. jefte 3-42016pp. 146-174

 

In September 2015, AThEME partner Laboratoire de Linguistique de Nantes (University of Nantes) hosted the 12th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition conference (GALA 12). As stated in these proceedings: “The conference Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition is the biannual meeting of researchers working on language development from a generative perspective. It provides a forum for discussion of the most recent advances on first and second language acquisition, heritage language and bilingual acquisition, language pathology, the acquisition of sign language and neurolinguistics.”

In this volume, 18 high-quality and diverse papers are presented, which will prove “a valuable reference guide for the researchers working in the domain of language acquisition and language development from a generative perspective.”

Language Acquisition and Development Proceedings of GALA 2015

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.

(to appear)

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.