Applied Linguistics Lunchtime Seminar Series: Professor Ianthi M. Tsimpli

10th May 2021 : 12:00 - 13:00

Category: Public Seminar

Research Group: Applied Linguistics

Speaker: Professor Ianthi M. Tsimpli

Location: Teams

Convener: Faidra Faitaki

Audience: Public



‘Multilingualism in underprivileged contexts: literacy and cognition

Professor Ianthi M. Tsimpli (University of Cambridge)

Much research in multilingualism and its effects on cognition and language ability has focused on individuals in western societies. Socioeconomic status, language of education and language prestige have been identified as some of the factors that appear to influence bi/multilingual individuals’ linguistic and cognitive profile although most research on the role of bilingualism on cognition has not capitalized on such factors. I will focus on multilingualism in India, one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world (UNESCO, 2009). Linguistic variation across Indian speakers is vast and includes variation in the number of home languages used, societal/community languages, official medium of instruction in schools and actual language practices in the classroom.

As language is the primary vehicle of education and learning, variation in any of the above measures of multilingualism can affect the language experience of the school child and have knock-on effects on the development of school skills (basic and higher literacy and numeracy), or cognition. Focusing on the data from 1200 children from urban primary schools in Delhi and Hyderabad and from rural areas in Patna, all from deprived or severely deprived socioeconomic backgrounds, I will try to disentangle how language experience and linguistic diversity in the child’s immediate environment (school, family, community) affect school skills and cognitive abilities.

Participants attend government primary schools in slum vs. non-slum urban areas of Delhi and Hyderabad, or town vs. rural areas in Patna, as part of a four-year, large-scale research project (MultiLila). They were assessed on mathematical reasoning, word, sentence and text reading, as well as non-verbal IQ, inhibition and complex working memory skills. Children attend English-medium or regional language medium schools (Hindi or Telugu), meaning that their assessment, textbooks and language used in the classroom is the official medium of instruction.

Although the language of textbooks and assessment match the official medium of instruction, language practices in the classroom include language mixing with English-only input ranging from zero to 40%, in English-medium schools. Taking into account the child’s home language(s) and the extent to which they are used in the classroom I will present the participants’ performance on linguistic, reasoning and cognitive skills. Results indicate a significant effect of multilingualism and linguistic diversity in the cognitive and school skills of children from underprivileged socioeconomic background.


Professor Ianthi Maria Tsimpli works on language development in the first and second language in children and adults, as well as on language impairment, attrition, bilingualism, language processing and the interaction between language, cognitive abilities and print exposure. She recently held the positions of Professor of Multilingualism and Cognition at the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading and the positions of Professor of Psycholinguistics and Director of the Language Development Lab at the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece.

Professor Tsimpli held a ‘Guest of the Rector’ Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and the Social Sciences for six months in 2012, a Visiting Professorship for six months at the University of Cyprus in 2007, and a Visiting Scholar position at the Collaborative Research Centre on Multilingualism at the University of Hamburg in 2005. She is Associate Editor of Lingua and member of the Editorial Board of the journals Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Second Language Research, Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, Language Acquisition: A Journal of Developmental Linguistics, Journal of Applied Linguistics, Biolinguistics (e-journal), Journal of Greek Linguistics and of the Book Series “Language Acquisition and Language Disorders”.