Bilingual Cognitive Advantage: Where Do We Stand?

Bilingual-post-Nov-14---V2Linguistic experience and its effect on cognition.

The following post by Dr. Aneta Pavlenko appeared on the Psychology Today blog, “Life as a bilingual”

Like all other walks of life, academia is not immune to fashions. In the study of bilingualism, one such trend has been the study of “the bilingual cognitive advantage”, the theory that experience of using two languages – and selecting one, while inhibiting the other – affects brain structure and strengthens ‘executive control’ akin to other experiences, such as musical training, navigation, and even juggling. This strengthening has been linked to a variety of findings: the superiority of bilingual children and adults in performance on tasks requiring cognitive control, resistance of bilingual brains to cognitive decline, and the delayed onset of dementia (see here).

Touted in the popular media, these findings captured our hearts and minds and for good reason: for those of us who are bi- and multilingual, this is good news and the focus itself is a pleasant change from concerns about bilingual disadvantage that permeated many early debates on bilingualism. But has the pendulum swung too much in the other direction? Has bilingualism become a commodity we are trying to sell, instead of an experience we are trying to understand? And is there, in fact, a consensus that the knowledge of more than one language offers us something more than the joys of reading and conversing in two languages and a leg up in learning the third, among other things?

For the remainder of the post, please click here

References:
Baum, S. & Titone D. (2014). Moving towards a neuroplasticity view of bilingualism, executive control, and aging. Applied Psycholinguistics, 35, 857-894.
Valian, V. (2014, in press) Bilingualism and cognition. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition.

 

 

Repetitions which are not repetitions: The non-redundant nature of tautological compounds

ELL-NOV-14Blog post written by Réka Benczes, based on an article in the latest issue of English Language and Linguistics 

One of the most intriguing – and least studied – areas of English word-formation are so-called “tautological compounds” that are formed out of synonyms (such as subject matter), or where one of the constituents is already included in the meaning of the other constituent (such as oak tree).Their oddity can be attributed to two main reasons. First, as their name, “tautological compound” implies, at face value such combinations can be considered as prime examples for the redundancy of language. Second, they do not follow normal compound-forming rules in the sense that both constituents can function as the semantic head – as opposed to “normal” English compounds, where the head element of the compound is always the right-hand member (hence apple tree is a type of tree, and not a type of apple).

Perhaps due to their quirkiness not much has been said about tautological compounds in traditional accounts of compounding, which typically relegate them to a marginal area of English. However, there is more to tautological compounds than meets the eye. First of all, the study demonstrates that the term “tautological compound” is a misnomer, as such combinations are far from being tautological or redundant in their meaning. Accordingly, the paper differentiates between hyponym-superordinate compounds (such as tuna fish and oak tree) and synonymous compounds (such as subject matter or courtyard) and claims that both types play important roles in language.

Hyponym-superordinate compounds are remnants of our early acquisition of taxonomical relations by making the link between the hierarchical levels explicit. At the same time, hyponym-superordinate compounds are also used to dignify and upgrade concepts via the conceptual metaphor more of form is more of content, whereby a linguistic unit that has a larger form is perceived to carry more information (that is, more content) than a single-word unit.

Synonymous compounds have been shown to possess an emphatic feature, which has been exploited mainly in poetic language (as in the works of Coleridge). However, synonymous compounds are still very much present in everyday language, though in a slightly different form – as synonym-based blends (e.g., chillax “to calm down or relax” from chill+relax, or chivers “chills or shivers” from chill+shivers).

While tautological compounds have been around for a rather long time in the English language, they have received only very little attention (if at all) from linguists. Yet they provide fascinating insights into the motivational processes behind compounding, thereby making it necessary to assign this much-neglected category to its proper, well-deserved place within English word formation.

We invite you to read the full article ‘Repetitions which are not repetitions: the non-redundant nature of tautological compounds’ here

Left edge topics in Russian and the processing of anaphoric dependencies

LIN Nov 14Post written by based on an article in Eric Potsdam the latest issue of Journal of Linguistics 

In this paper we investigate the the relative cost of processing syntactic versus extra-syntactic dependencies. The results support the hypothesis that syntactic dependencies require less processing effort than discourse-derived dependencies do, as proposed in work by Eric Reuland and Arnout Koornneef. We do this by investigating a novel paradigm in Russian in which a preposed nominal stranding a numeral can show number connectivity (PAUCAL) with a gap following the numeral or can appear in a non-agreeing (PLURAL) form:

(1) a. Sobora-a v gorodke bylo tri sobor-a
cathedral-PAUCAL in town was three.PAUCAL (Connectivity)

b. Sobor-ov v gorodke bylo tri pro
cathedral-PLURAL in town was three.PAUCAL (Non-agreeing form)

Numerous syntactic diagnostics confirm that when there is number connectivity, (1a), the nominal has been fronted via A′-movement, creating a syntactic A′-chain dependency. In the absence of connectivity, (1b), the construction involves a hanging topic related via discourse mechanisms to a base-generated null pronoun, pro. The constructions constitute a syntactic minimal pair in that the structures are nearly the same but the anaphoric dependency ends in different types of elements, a trace/copy versus pro. Reuland’s proposals correctly predict that the A′-movement construction in (1a) will require less processing effort compared to the hanging topic construction in (1b). We conducted a self-paced reading study for contrasting pairs as in (1) and show a statistically significant slow-down after the pro with the hanging topic in (1b) as compared to the moved nominal in (1a). We take this to support the claim that a syntactic A′-chain of movement is more easily processed than an anaphoric dependency involving a null pronoun, which must be resolved by discourse-based mechanisms.

The work can be taken to show that null pronouns and traces are distinct elements in the syntax and hearers process them differently.

We invite you to explore the full article here.

Bilingual children cope well in noisy classrooms

Bilingual-children-Oct-14Youngsters who speak two languages maintain their focus better than monolinguals

 A new study, published in the journal Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, has found that bilingual primary school children learn more effectively than monolinguals within noisy environments such as classrooms.

Anglia Ruskin University’s Dr Roberto Filippi carried out research in Cambridge primary schools, focusing on children aged between seven and 10.

The study discovered that bilingual children were more able to maintain focus on a main task, which in this case was the identification of the subject within a short sentence in the presence of noise.

Pupils who only speak one language did not reach the same level of efficiency, showing that noise negatively affects their ability to sustain attention, especially when comprehending more difficult sentences.

Dr Filippi, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin, said: “Previous research has shown that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive abilities, but there were no studies investigated whether these advantages extended to learning in noisy environments.

“Primary schools are the key stages for the development of formal learning in the first years of life.  However, they are also remarkably noisy.  Therefore the ability to filter out auditory interference is particularly important within the context of an educational environment.”

Dr Filippi was joined by international researchers from Birkbeck in London and the Northwestern University in Chicago.  The study provides further evidence of the importance of learning a second language early in the UK educational system.

Following the findings of the study, the researchers have applied to the Leverhulme Trust for funding to conduct large-scale research in this area which will survey people of all ages in an attempt to track how bilingualism affects the brain throughout a person’s development.

Co-Editor of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition Dr Jubin Abutalebi comments “The elegant research carried out by Dr. Filippi and coworkers addresses an important field of enquiry within developmental psychology. In their contribution, the authors report that bilingual children have superior performance in controlling verbal interference as compared to their monolingual peers. However, as the authors underline this effect is dependent on how good bilingual children master their two languages. Dr. Abutalebi, one of the editors of ‘Bilingualism: Language and Cognition’, notes that this study may further add crucial evidence to the controversy surrounding research questions such as if and eventually how bilingualism enhances cognitive functions.”

Read the entire article ‘Bilingual children show an advantage in controlling verbal interference during spoken language comprehension’ here 

How can ESL students make the best use of learners’ dictionaries?

Dictionary-post2Blog post written by Alice Chan, based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

What will you do if you have problems understanding how a word is used?

Will you just surf the web or will you check a dictionary?

How useful is a learner’s dictionary to you?

A lot of people say that learners’ dictionaries are useful for self-learning, but why are there so many complaints about the usefulness and user-friendliness of a learner’s dictionary? Some of you may wonder: Even after checking a dictionary before using a word, I still cannot use the word correctly. Why? Is there something wrong with me or with the dictionary? Yes. You may have some wrong assumptions about a word or about what a dictionary can tell you. You may also have ignored a lot of useful information.

This article answers your questions and helps you make the full use of a learner’s dictionary. It gives you an idea what different kinds of information are available in a learner’s dictionary, what you have done wrong when you consult a learner’s dictionary, and what you can do to learn from a learner’s dictionary. If you are not an ESL student but an ESL teacher, you may also find this article useful, as it can help you design a dictionary training programme that suits your students best. Don’t throw away your dictionary or have it lying idle on your bookshelf. Follow my suggestions, and you will see how useful it is.

Access the entire article ‘How can ESL students make the best use of learners’ dictionaries?’ here

Vowel insertion in Scottish Gaelic

PHO Aug 14Post written by Michael Hammond, Natasha Warner, Andréa Davis, Andrew Carnie, Diana Archangeli and Muriel Fisher,University of Arizona

Based on an article recently published in the journal Phonology

Scottish Gaelic has a process whereby a vowel is inserted into a hetero-organic cluster when the preceding vowel is short, the first consonant is a sonorant, and the second consonant is not a voiceless stop, e.g. arm`army’ /arm/ ->[aram], seanmhair`grandmother’ /ƪɛnvɛr/ -> [ɛnɛvɛr], etc.

These have been cited as instances of excrescent vowels (Hall, 2006). One of the defining properties of such vowels is that they are phonologically inert and are not motivated by-nor do they contribute to-the syllable structure of a language. The basic idea is that excrescent vowels are essentially gestural transitions from one segment to another, without phonological motivation or consequence.

In this paper, we report on a series of six experiments tapping into native speakers’ intuitions of syllable structure in Scottish Gaelic. Our first two experiments tap into whether subjects can distinguish items with inserted vowels from those without. The general result here is that they can.

Experiments #3 and #4 ask subjects to give the number of syllables in a word, either by counting (#3) or by knocking (#4). These show that there is indeed a difference between words with inserted vowels and those without. Interestingly, the results show that inserted vowels are distinct from non-inserted vowels, they are not the same. They contribute significantly to the syllable count, but not as much

as a non-inserted vowel. Finally, experiments #5 and #6 tap into whether the syllabification of intervocalic consonants is affected by the insertion status of the following vowel. Our results show that it is indeed. In general terms, when the following vowel is inserted, the consonant is less likely to affiliate to the left, than to the right.

Our results suggest that the inserted vowels of Scottish Gaelic are not phonologically inert. These vowels contribute significantly and directly to native speaker intuitions, affecting both the number of syllables and the affiliation of consonants to those syllables. Thus, insofar as intuitions about syllable count and the syllabification reflect phonological structure, the inserted vowels of Scottish Gaelic are part of the phonology. However, our results also establish that the relevant vowels have an intermediate phonological status, distinguishing them from underlying vowels as well.

Read the full article ‘Vowel insertion in Scottish Gaelic’ here.

Apostrophe: the most disputed punctuation mark in English since the eighteenth century onwards

ENG-Aug-14-ApostropheBlog post written by Morana Lukač based on an article in the latest issue of English Today

In the research project Bridging the Unbridgeable: linguists, prescriptivists and the general public at the Leiden Centre for Linguistics, we are building the Hyper Usage Guide of English or HUGE database currently made up of 76 usage guides. One of our aims within the project is to explore the popularity and to track the history of English usage items by using the database. In this English Today feature I briefly look into the history of the apostrophe, the most disputed punctuation mark in the English language.

Since its introduction in the eighteenth century, the possessive apostrophe became a topic of interest for the authors of usage guides. Today, however, its usefulness continues to be disputed and its existence is still rather unstable. In the realm of social media which call for linguistic and orthographic economy, such as Twitter, the apostrophe is first to be eliminated.

In spite of what currently seems to be a more liberal attitude towards orthographic rules, the misuse of the possessive apostrophe is still a common topic in letters-to-the-editor sections of newspapers and online discussions on language use. The possessive apostrophe is a typical example of a cultural shibboleth that separates the inner circle of the standard language users from the rest. Is the possessive apostrophe on its way out or is it here to stay, at least in the more formal genres? Share your thoughts with us on this and other topics concerning language use on our blog.

Read the entire article ‘Apostrophe(‘)s, who needs them?’ A further invitation to contribute to questions studied by the ‘Bridging the Unbridgeable’ Project at the Leiden Centre for Linguistics here

Read more about the collaboration between English Today and Bridging the Unbridgeable here 

In her last Editorial June talks about her work on ReCALL and the community more widely

Volume 26 of ReCALL marks the retirement of Editor June Thompson. Although I have only been lucky enough to work with her for the last three years her hard work and commitment to the journal is evident and a testimony to her work is the health of the journal.

2014-06-17 09_15_31-Edit Post ‹ Cambridge Extra at LINGUIST List — WordPressBlog post written by June Thompson

As this is my last opportunity to write an editorial in ReCALL, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on the journal’s progress over the past seven years and outline its current position. In ReCALL Volume 18 (2) in November 2006 I reported on ReCALL’s early beginnings at the CTI Centre for Modern Languages at the University of Hull in 1990, its relationship with EUROCALL and eventually with Cambridge University Press.

Highlights from the last seven years include:

- ReCALL has continued to be published three times a year, with a steady increase in circulation

- Publication of five special issues involving guest editors

- Increasing number of submissions from around the world

- After starting to publish ReCALL online as well as in print, Cambridge University Press digitized all previous issues

- Another recent innovation, FirstView means that completed articles are published online well in advance of the printed issue, thus speeding up the process from submission to publication

- ReCALL achieved its first impact factor in in 2012 which improved in 2013 with the journal now ranked 29/160 in the Linguistics category

The next chapter in ReCALL’s history is a change in editorial arrangements. Last year I decided the time had come for me to step down and hand over my part of the responsibility as smoothly as possible. To that end, Alex Boulton was appointed as co-editor, along with myself and Françoise Blin, and ReCALL will soon be accepting submissions via the ScholarOne system.

For me, the best part of working on ReCALL has been the contact with such a wide range of interesting, educated and helpful colleagues: authors, reviewers, guest editors, staff at Cambridge University Press, and many long-standing EUROCALL friends. I feel very privileged to have had the support of so many people in helping to create, from scratch, a journal of which I think we can all be proud.

Read the full Editorial in the latest issue of ReCALL here 


All at Cambridge and those involved in ReCALL want to place on record our thanks to June and wish her the best of luck in her retirement.

2013 Christopher L. Brumfit Award Prize Runner-up Announced

LTA 47 2We are delighted to announce that the runner-up of this year’s prize is Alastair Henry.

We asked Alastair to provide Cambridge Extra with a summary of his winning work.

As a language teacher and language teacher educator it really is a great honour that my thesis ‘L3 Motivation’ was selected as runner-up for the 2013 Christopher Brumfit Award. In addition to my supervisors at the University of Gothenburg, and of course the panel of referees, the editor and members of the editorial board at Language Teaching, I would like to thank Professor Zoltán Dörnyei who generously agreed to review the thesis, providing guidance, advice and insights that were invaluable in enabling me to improve the work and sharpen some of the theoretical arguments.

When I started my research I hadn’t indented to write a thesis on school students’ motivation to learn additional languages such as French, German or Spanish. However I quickly realized that while there was a growing body of research on motivation to learn English, there was hardly any research on other languages. Nor did motivation researchers seem to differentiate between languages learnt as L2s or L3s. Furthermore, I began working at a time when a paradigm shift was taking place in motivation research, the new model offering opportunities to explore aspects of motivation – such as the impact of the L2 on L3 motivation – that had not previously existed.

The thesis consists of four papers (two published in System, one in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development and and one in the International Journal of Multilingualism). In the first two studies I drew on questionnaire-based data to track secondary school students’ motivation to learn English (the L2) and French, German and Spanish (the L3) across six school grades, analysing the differences in motivational trajectories between the L2 and L3, and in girls’ and boy’s motivation over the period. In the third study I suggested that L2 English was having a negative effect on L3 motivation, testing this hypothesis using data from a cohort of final grade students, while in the fourth study I carried out interviews with students with differing motivational profiles identified using cluster analysis techniques. Analyses of the data in these studies revealed that negative comparisons with L2 English were having a negative effect on L3 motivation, particularly among boys, and that students who were successful in maintaining L3 motivation invoked counteracting resources to offset such effects. Based on these findings, and on proposals previously made by Zoltán Dörnyei, as well as work in the multilingual field by Ulrike Jessner, I offered a number of suggestions for ways in which teachers can help students strengthen their self-concepts as multilingual speakers, and how they can refocus on L3 learning in the face of negative comparisons with English.

Many congratulations Alastair on being runner-up in this coveted international award which perpetuates the name of such a distinguished linguist.

2013 Christopher L. Brumfit Award Prize Winner Announced

LTA 47 2We are delighted to announce that the winner of this year’s prize is Ellen Serafini.

We asked Ellen to provide Cambridge Extra with a summary of her prize winning work.

I am humbled to be recognized by Language Teaching and Cambridge University Press as the recipient of the 2013 Christopher Brumfit award and sincerely thank all those involved for this great honor. In the apt words of my mentor, Dr. Cristina Sanz, my thesis research attempts to look at the forest rather than the trees in its comprehensive approach to understanding the complexities of second language (L2) learning in adults.

My principal motivation was to explain variability in L2 development between adult L2 learners of Spanish by considering the role of learner individual differences (IDs) at varying levels of proficiency and at different points in time. While previous research has tended to look only at the cognitive or the affective side of the learner equation cross-sectionally, rather than longitudinally, I examined both cognitive IDs, like working memory capacity, and psychosocial IDs, like L2 motivation, in order to ascertain their relative and joint explanatory capacity over time. A secondary goal of this research was to contribute to what we know about the development and measurement of knowledge of (implicit) and about (explicit) L2 grammar at increasing proficiency.

I am currently preparing a report of the results of this study in a series of articles, four of which are currently in preparation and under review at peer-reviewed journals. The first addresses the reliable and valid assessment of implicit and explicit linguistic knowledge and considers proficiency as a key variable in our interpretation of such measurement. In the second and third papers, I report on the changing role of cognitive and psychosocial resources as learners gain further input, exposure to, and practice in the target language. These results provide much needed empirical evidence for theoretical claims made by Peter Robinson, Peter Skehan, and others that learning additional languages as an adult involves different abilities at different stages of development. In the final paper, I discuss the relationships found between different learner ID constructs and consider their dynamic influence on L2 development and implications for future research.

I believe these findings offer valuable insight to both theory and pedagogy in the field of second language acquisition. In the future, I aim to extend this study to heritage language populations who are key to understanding the complex phenomena of language learning and language maintenance. If you have any questions or comments about my research, please feel free to contact me at eserafi2@gmu.edu.

Many congratulations Ellen on winning this coveted international award which perpetuates the name of such a distinguished linguist.