Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World

Post written by Jennifer Austin, María Blume & Liliana Sánchez authors of Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World.

Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking WorldBilingualism, and how it affects language and cognitive development, is a topic of increasing relevance in an interconnected world. In Bilingualism in the Spanish-Speaking World, we examine how the outcomes of bilingualism are shaped by factors at the individual level, such as age of acquisition and the amount and type of input, as well as societal support for the minority language in the form of dual-language education and similar initiatives. By analyzing previous research on the effects of these variables on bilingual speakers’ linguistic representations, as well as their minds and brains, we have attempted to provide a better understanding of some emerging conceptual views of the bilingual speaker. We also discuss how societal maintenance of bilingualism differs within the three multilingual communities which are the focus of this book: Peru, Spain and the United States. The status of Spanish varies between these regions; in Peru and the Spanish Basque Country, Spanish is a high-status, majority language, and in the United States, it is a minority language with varying degrees of prestige. While these three communities are linked by the common thread of bilingualism in Spanish, they provide diverse perspectives on the experience of being bilingual in distinct cultural, political, and socioeconomic contexts.

In the first chapter of the book, we examine how the concept of bilingualism has evolved from early definitions which included the expectation that bilinguals should behave like monolinguals, as in Bloomfield’s definition of bilingualism as the “native-like control of two languages” (Bloomfield 1933: 55-56). Increasingly, contemporary theories of bilingualism view differences between bilinguals and monolinguals as expected and normal, rather than deficiencies on the part of the bilingual. In addition, we discuss how heritage speakers challenge previous expectations regarding bilingualism, namely that the first language acquired is always the dominant one (the “mother tongue”), as well as the language that is acquired in a “native-like” fashion.

In the second chapter, we discuss recent research showing that the two languages of a bilingual are highly interconnected at the lexical, syntactic and phonological levels. We also review evidence that the continual interaction between the languages of a bilingual has important repercussions for cognitive development in bilingual children beginning early in infancy. These include enhanced executive function skills stemming from bilinguals’ need to monitor and inhibit one of their languages, as well as enhanced literacy abilities for bilingual children acquiring same-script languages. Bilingualism also produces neuroanatomical changes in multilingual speakers, including enhanced subcortical auditory processing and increased grey matter density in the inferior parietal cortex, an effect that is modulated by language proficiency and age of acquisition. Finally in the second chapter we presented evidence regarding the factors that affect L1 and L2 attrition in bilinguals, including age of second language immersion, availability and type of input, and proficiency levels in each language.

The third chapter examines several theories which have been proposed to account for lexical and syntactic development in bilingual children and adults. While early theoretical accounts assumed that lexical and syntactic development occurred separately, more recent approaches have proposed that their acquisition is interconnected, a theoretical linguistic advance which finds empirical support in the studies of the bilingual lexicon by cognitive psychologists. In this chapter we also present research findings that have allowed the field of bilingualism to move from initial debates on unitary versus binary systems of representation to a more nuanced view of the development of the bilingual lexicon and syntax that involves the interplay of different language subcomponents.

The overall picture that emerges from this book is thatthe cognitive and linguistic effectsof bilingualism illustrate just how complex the representation and processing of language are in the human mind in ways that go beyond accounts based solely on the study of monolinguals.

To find out more about this new book published by Cambridge University Press please click here

Language use affects proficiency in Italian–Spanish bilinguals irrespective of age of second language acquisition

BIL SI Cover 2015Blog post written by Fabrizio De Carli based on an article in the latest issue of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

Age is considered an important factor for the acquisition of new skills in the domain of language and in other perceptual and cognitive competences. Clear evidence of age of acquisition (AoA) effects has been found in the development of sensory systems, supporting the idea that specific brain functions can develop only during an early critical period, characterized by brain plasticity. The crucial role of infancy for the acquisition of basic language competences is supported by clear findings involving first language (L1) but its extension to second (L2) and further languages is controversial. Can adult people learn new languages and reach native-like skills? What factors or condition favor the acquisition of high proficiency in the new language? Experimental studies suggest that implicit learning and continued language use are major factors influencing bilingual proficiency.

According to the Declarative/Procedural Model (Ullman, 2001), language processing mainly includes: a mental lexicon, depending on declarative memory, a set of grammatical rules, and phonology, which both mainly depend on procedural memory. Accordingly, L1 acquisition extensively relies on implicit learning and procedural memory while L2 acquisition involves explicit learning and declarative memory. The convergence hypothesis (Green, 2003) suggests that these differences decrease when proficiency increases. However, beyond lexicon, grammar and phonology, verbal communication also involves pragmatic competences, enabling the use of sentences appropriate to the context, including figurative, metaphoric and idiomatic expressions. Another pragmatic competence concerns the communication in bilingual mode and entails the ability to switch between languages without code-mixing and interferences.

We present a study aimed at verifying the effect of AoA and intensity of language use on proficiency in a bilingual task and its relationship with cognitive skills. The study involved a group of Italian–Spanish bilinguals who performed a battery of cognitive tests and a bilingual test mainly involving pragmatic and lexical competences but not phonetics: it required the fast recognition of whole sentences having the same functional meaning in the two languages, so stimulating automatic language processing and switching. Statistical analysis showed significant effects of language use and cognitive skills, mainly switching and executive control, and a non-significant effect of AoA. These results indicate that intensive bilingual practice is a major factor influencing pragmatic bilingual proficiency, even irrespective of AoA, also suggesting that proficiency may be weakened when bilingual experience becomes occasional or ceases. The study also confirms the association between bilingual proficiency and cognitive skills which might reflect a positive reciprocal influence.

Read the full paper ‘Language use affects proficiency in Italian–Spanish bilinguals irrespective of age of second language acquisition’ here.

A Fuss about the Octopus

ENG-Blog-April-2015Blog post written by Inge Otto based on an article in English Today 

If I ask you to think of one octopus, then of two, of three even – what word comes to your mind as the plural form of ‘octopus’? If you were to think about your choice longer, is there another word you could use for the same purpose? In theory, you could come up with three options. The plurals octopuses, octopi, and octopodes are all attested in English, and thus could all be used to refer to more than one octopus.

When you look at these plurals from a purely descriptive point of view, they are thus equally useful and acceptable. However, to prescriptivists some of the plurals are better than others. In advisory books about language usage, in so-called usage guides, the authors usually express their preference of one usage over the other. The Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Henry Watson Fowler, 1926) advises the reader to use ‘octopuses’ for example.

The HUGE database that Robin Straaijer and I have been working on in the context of the Bridging the Unbridgeable project includes excerpts from dozens of usage guides like Fowlers’ one. In my English Today feature, ‘A Fuss about the Octopus’,  I discuss the results of searching this database of usage guides and usage problems for pieces of advice about the plural of octopus. Whether or not there is evidence for a link between people’s actual usage of the plurals on the one hand and the prescriptive advice provided in usage guides on the other, is something that is touched upon in the article too.

Read the full article ‘A fuss about the octopus – Another invitation to contribute to questions studied by the Bridging the Unbridgeable project at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics’ here.

Key links:

L3 Acquisition: A Focus on Cognitive Approaches

BIL SI Cover 2015Blog post written by Maria Del Pilar Garcia Mayo, introducing a new special issue of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 

Most available evidence suggests that, when acquiring a new language, our brains make the automatic and unconscious assumption that, at some or all levels, it ‘works’ like one of the languages we already know. Since this is not necessarily the case for all properties, when our mental processor ‘transfers’ the previously acquired language this may have positive or negative (and sometimes downright comical) results with respect to target-like performance. How does the brain determine this source of transfer? Which language should it choose? In second language acquisition this question need not be asked, but what if the learner already speaks more than one language? A majority of the contributions to this special issue of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition deal with these questions, which are inevitably related to cognitive economy: transfer, more often than not, saves our brain a lot of time and effort. Exactly how, and under which criteria, the transfer source selection task is performed is what our colleagues are trying to determine. Inside this issue you will find state-of-the-art research on transfer at the initial stages of third language acquisition and beyond, inspecting a variety of linguistic domains that range from morpho-syntax to the lexicon.

Development, a concept just as important as the initial state, takes a complex yet fascinating turn in third language acquisition. A number of papers in this monograph focus on the diverse paths that the course of language acquisition may take within the sphere of multilingualism: from a look at heritage speakers who embark on relearning their native language to a formidable four-year longitudinal study that tracked the progress of almost one hundred bilingual children as they learnt a third language.

Of course, there is room for doubt in this special issue. One of the contributions poses the sensible question of whether studying how third language learners process language will teach us anything we cannot find out by looking at second language speakers. Is there really a qualitative difference between second and third language processing, or is it just more balls to juggle? The answer is as multifaceted as the question itself, but it has great implications for the way in which our brain deals with language.

Ever wondered what we already know about the adventure of learning a third or further language? Come and find out by reading the special issue of Bilingualism here.

Does the socio-cultural context influence the way Chinese people write business English?

ENG blog - Mar 15Blog post written by Marisa Carrió and Rut Muñiz based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

As China has emerged as an economic giant and has established business relationships worldwide, the use of English has become essential in every day communication. New digital written genres such as emails are used every day in a globalized business context. We think that this current setting encourages participants to experiment with communication, changing and adapting language to their own comfort, using a more direct style, and prioritizing instant communication over grammatical and style correctness.

We believe that it is necessary to take into account the cultural background of the speaker when interpreting meaning in a business context in order to understand the message in cross-cultural communication.

In this sense, since English is spoken by more non-native speakers than by native speakers nowadays, it could be said that it becomes like a “sponge”, absorbing the characteristics and features of different cultures and languages. Chinese speakers of English are not an exception, differences or variations can be observed in their language use.

In this paper, we contrast business e-mails written by agents who work in an exporting company in Hong Kong and China and communicate via email with their counterparts all around the world. Two research questions arise from this study:

a. What are the most common types of variation produced by Chinese writers of English?

b. Does lexical variation change when English is used as a second language or as a foreign language?

Our main aim is to determine the causes of variation and their influence on digital discourse.

The results of the analysis of the corpus compiled showed that there are variations indeed. We observed that Chinese writers used more non-Standard English than do Hong Kong writers, as for the latter English is an official language and is used as a second language. Furthermore, business English tends to be more informal when used by Chinese writers, transmitting the linguistic and cultural identity of the author as, for example, they use a commanding style or invent a given name.

Read the full article ‘Identification and causes of lexical variation in Chinese Business English’ here


Authenticity as a Continuum

Pinner-Authenticity-EnglishBlog post written by Richard Pinner based on an article in English Today

Authenticity is a familiar and well used term in language teaching.  It is also a loaded term, with connotations that go deeper than the origin of a particular material, but all the way to philosophical conceptualizations of self. For this reason, the ‘classic’ and inevitably culturalist definition of authenticity, as something from a target language culture whose original purpose was not for learning, can actually work negatively against people who are not intimately associated with the target culture. Simply put, there is still an embedded and implied connection to ‘native speaker’ countries when authenticity is discussed in terms of language teaching. This native speakerist conceptualization of authenticity rears its ugly head when selecting ideal models to present to learners, whenever a so-called non-standard grammar usage is called into question, and basically whenever a textbook is written.  In my paper I tried to highlight the fact that English is still taught as an Inner-Circle language in many EFL contexts, such as Japan (Matsuda, 2003) and other parts of Asia. As a result of culturally-embedded and Anglo-American oriented views of English, the concept of authenticity in such contexts still lies in the hands of the ‘native speaker’.  In an attempt to address this issue, I adopt the view that authenticity is partly a socially constructed shared experience and partly a sense of validity which comes from the individual self about the teaching/learning situation. In the article I start by outlining some of the difficulties surrounding the notion of authenticity, then go on to argue that authenticity might be better represented as a continuum, which makes greater allowance for the perspective of English as an international language.

As Mishan (2005)and Gilmore (2007) both explain in some detail, the issues around the concept of authenticity are varied, abstract, overlapping and often contradictory. For me, it was a rich place to immerse myself for a PhD, but for most people it simply isn’t practical to read decades of abstract arguments in the literature just to answer the question “what is authenticity”? Further complicating the issue, several scholars (such as van Lier, 1996 for example) seem to be drawing their definitions from existential philosophy. Aside from being an attempt at redefining authenticity to be more inclusive of and empowering for international varieties of English, creating the continuum was also an attempt at simplifying a very complicated argument into an easy to understand diagram which invites people to look at authenticity as essentially a fluid, dynamic, contextually and individually unique component of their class. The more I examine authenticity the more I realise that it is actually something which is negotiated between students and teachers in language learning contexts, and something which is very influential in the success of the classroom. I am still continuing to examine authenticity, specifically how it relates to motivation, but I hope this article with stimulate more discussion on the topic and to encourage people to examine authenticity as it relates to them as social and contextually situated individuals.

Read the full article ‘The authenticity continuum: Towards a definition incorporating international voices’ here


Gilmore, A. (2007). Authentic materials and authenticity in foreign language learning. Language Teaching, 40(02), 97-118. doi: doi:10.1017/S0261444807004144

Mishan, F. (2005). Designing authenticity into language learning materials. Bristol: Intellect Books.

van Lier, L. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum: Awareness, autonomy and authenticity. London: Longman.


SSLA Announces the Albert Valdman Award Winner

Cambridge University Press and Studies in Second Language Acquisition announce the Albert Valdman Award.

This new annual award, in honor of Founding Editor Professor Albert Valdman, is for an outstanding paper in the previous year’s volume.

The 2015 award is given to Dr. Sible Andringa, University of Amsterdam, The Use of Native Speaker Norms in Critical Period Hypothesis Research, Volume 36, Issue 3.

Post written by Dr. Sible Andringa, Amsterdam, February 2015

When I heard my paper ‘The use of native speaker norms in critical period hypothesis research’ won the Albert Valdman award for outstanding publication in Studies in Second Language Acquisition, I was truly surprised. I didn’t know the award existed.  It turns out the award is new and that my paper is the first ever to receive it. Still, even if I had known about the Albert Valdman award, I would have been equally surprised. Studies in Second Language Acquisition is a high-quality and high-impact journal, and every issue invariably contains excellent work. That my paper was chosen from such an excellent array of publications– I just couldn’t believe it. What makes it even more amazing that it won, is that the paper itself was never planned:  a true case of serendipity. The paper is based on data collected within the so-called ‘Studies in Listening’ (or Stilis) project, on which I worked together with my colleagues Catherine van Beuningen, Jan Hulstijn, Nomi Olsthoorn and Rob Schoonen. The project ran from 2007 to 2011 and we planned several papers, but never one on the use of native speaker samples in second language acquisition research. I got the idea for this paper somewhere halfway through the project upon observing that our native speakers varied considerably, but I do not know how I came to relate this observation to the use of native speaker samples in CPH research. Perhaps my SLA course, in which we also discuss age effects in SLA, got me thinking. I did not start writing immediately – the planned papers obviously took priority, but I kept notes when I stumbled upon interesting publications, I started to attend relevant presentations at conferences, and I informally discussed my ideas at lunch meetings with my colleagues of the ‘Cognitive Approaches to Second Language Acquisition’ (CASLA) research group here in Amsterdam. In Stockholm in 2011, I presented a crude version of the paper at EUROSLA 21. It drew a crowd, as well as critical questions! I chewed on it for another year, occasionally spending a few minutes to update my notes. When I finally started writing the paper, about three years after I conceived the idea, it wrote itself, took no effort. And now it won the Albert Valdman award! Perhaps, then, this is the recipe for writing award-winning papers: postpone writing as long as you can, present the ideas and discuss it with colleagues until the paper is fully crystalized in your head. I want to take the opportunity to thank all my Stilis and CASLA colleagues here in Amsterdam and all others who provided feedback and helped me sharpen my thoughts, Studies in Second Language Acquisition’s reviewers and editorial team included. It is an excellent idea that Cambridge University Press and the new SSLA Editorial team decided to honor Founding Editor Albert Valdman with an award that carries his name and I am deeply honored and flattered that my article won this award.

Language perception in the East Midlands in England

Investigating East Midlands adolescents’ perception of language variation in the UK

Post written by Natalie Braber based on an article in English Today

ENG Blog post - Mar 15The concept of identity in the East Midlands can be relatively problematic as it is not immediately clear what is included in the region and where it fits in the North-South divide in the UK. It is an interesting area linguistically, because of its shared features with northern varieties, as well as southern varieties of English. It has also been argued that the Midlands form a transition zone between North and South and that a clear North/South divide cannot be made. There has been relatively little survey of the local dialects but despite this lack of empirical evidence, anecdotally it appears that language in the East Midlands remains distinctive (both within the region and compared to other regions) and locals insist there is considerable difference, for instance, between speech in the major urban centres of Nottingham, Derby and Leicester.

This paper aims to extend this topic by investigating views of young people living in the East Midlands using a folk linguistic approach which looks at non-linguists’ beliefs and perceptions about the similarities of their own speech to, and differences from, the speech of others. This involves examining where participants believe dialect areas to be and what the characteristics of local speech are. This paper examines dialect identification and investigates the abilities of a sample group of adolescents to place correctly local and regional varieties of English. The main goal of this study was to start the discussion of perceptual dialectology in the region and to learn about what adolescents think and know about language variation in the East Midlands and the UK more widely. It examines in detail the accents and dialects this group believes to exist in the UK and to see how well they can recognise these.  It shows that these adolescents were not accurate at recognising local accents and were unlikely to name local towns and regions as having a distinctive accent.

Read the full article ‘Language perception in the East Midlands in England’

Cognitive Discourse Analysis: What language use can reveal about mental representations and concepts

LCO 2015 coverPost written by Thora Tenbrink based on an article in Language and Cognition

 What do we actually ‘see’ when we observe a picture or a scene, or watch an event unfold? How do we solve complex problems, and what are the steps of thought that we go through? How can we learn about such thoughts, as we cannot access people’s minds directly? Questions such as these have a lot to do with our everyday life, and they are quite relevant to many fields in cognitive science as well as applied research, for example design cognition or pedagogy.  Cognitive Discourse Analysis (CODA) is a methodology that helps identifying people’s thoughts in a systematic way. People are asked to speak out lout what they’re thinking; their language is transcribed, and analysed in depth. Besides the (often quite revealing) content of what people are saying, the features of their language (how they say it) point to underlying concepts and aspects that the speakers themselves are not necessarily aware of: their focus of attention, things taken for granted or perceived as new, levels of granularity, conceptual perspective, and so on.

 CODA uses linguistic insights to analyse verbal data collected in relation to cognitively challenging tasks. When formulating their thoughts, speakers draw in systematic ways from their general repertory of language to express their current concepts. Their choices in relation to a cognitively demanding situation or scenario can reveal crucial aspects of their underlying conceptualisations, shedding light on how people solve complex problem solving tasks, as well as how they describe complex problems or situations.

As a simple example consider a route description. The utterance ‘Turn right at the shopping mall’ shows that the speaker has a concept of a unique shopping mall that distinguishes it from other buildings in the environment, and can therefore be referred to by a definite article and used as a landmark to anchor a direction change. The formulation ‘turn right’ also reveals the underlying perspective (egocentric as perceived by the traveller, rather than compass based). In these and other ways, linguistic choices can reflect crucial aspects about the speakers’ conceptualisations. This provides a useful pathway to access cognition, drawing on knowledge about relevant features of language supported by grammatical theory, cognitive linguistic semantics, and other linguistic findings. In situations of communication (for example to complete a joint task or discuss a rationale for action), the different perspectives and conceptualisations of the speakers are flexibly negotiated in dialogue.

Read the full article ‘Cognitive Discourse Analysis: accessing cognitive representations and processes through language data’ here

An update from the incoming Editors of the Nordic Journal of Linguistics

NJL 2015 CoverBlog post written by the incoming Editors of the Nordic Journal of Linguistics: Gunnar Ólafur Hansson, Marit Julien & Matti Miestamo

The last few years have been a transition period in the editorship of the Nordic Journal of Linguistics (NJL). Sten Vikner and Catherine Ringen, who have served as editors since 2001, are stepping down and a new editorial team is taking over. A few years ago it was agreed that in order to avoid an abrupt change in the editorship, Gunnar Ólafur Hansson, Matti Miestamo and Marit Westergaard would join the editorial team first as associate editors, and accordingly, in 2012-2014, the team had five members. Now the time has come for the new editors to take over completely, and from 2015 on, the editors of the journal are Hansson, Miestamo and Marit Julien, who now replaces Westergaard on the editorial team. Fredrik Heinat remains review editor as before. We wish to express our warm thanks to Sten and Cathie for their invaluable service to the Journal and to the Nordic linguistic community over the past decade and a half, as well as for their help and advice during our first years as NJL editors. We would also like to thank Marit Westergaard for the smooth cooperation we have had during the last three years.

We would like to point out to our readers and potential contributors that there are now four ways to contribute to NJL. In addition to the three traditional submission categories of (longer) articles, short communications, and book reviews, we have added a fourth category, review articles. We would very much like to encourage contributions to NJL within all four categories, including short communications, which are like articles in being peer-reviewed, but different from articles in that in such a communication, it is possible to make or illustrate an empirical point without necessarily giving a fully fledged and theoretically integrated analysis. Also, short communications are appropriate for comments on earlier publications in the Journal. Review articles are like book reviews in discussing a recent book of major importance or relevance to the NJL readership (or two or more books on the same topic), but the greater length allows for more detailed and substantial evaluation and critique. Like book reviews, review articles will typically be invited by the Editors, but unsolicited submissions in this category are also welcome.Information concerning submissions and instructions for contributors can be found at Note that NJL has a new email address for submissions and general queries:

We are furthermore happy to announce that issue 39.2 (2016) of NJL will be a special issue devoted to Discourse, Grammar and Intersubjectivity, edited by Marja Etelämäki, Ilona Herlin, Tapani Möttönen and Laura Visapää. For full details, see the call for papers here.