Do we still need a ‘monolingual standard’ in research on bilingualism?

25th January 2021 : 17:00 - 18:00

Category: Public Seminar

Research Group: Applied Linguistics

Speaker: Professor Antonella Sorace, University of Edinburgh

Location: Online - Zoom

Convener: Victoria Murphy

Audience: Public


Passcode:  238741

Recent research often publicized in the media shows that bilingualism can enhance some aspects of mental functioning. In most cases these differences favour bilinguals: for example, metalinguistic skills and language learning abilities, understanding of other people’s perspectives, and mental flexibility in dealing with complex situations have all been found to be positively affected by bilingualism in both children and adults. However, these benefits are not always found. One reason is that bilingualism is a continuous dimension affected by a variety of linguistic, social and individual factors, rather than a dichotomous one. Another reason is that the effects are always defined with respect to monolingual standards; however, research has shown that the first language always changes – in selective but predictable ways – upon exposure to a second language (Sorace 2011, 2016). These findings reveal that language in the brain is highly adaptive and imply that bilinguals are not (and should not be expected to be) monolingual-like in either of their languages. Understanding the new emerging picture requires an interdisciplinary effort that redefines the standard of comparison in bilingualism research. This in turn has implications for the public understanding of bilingualism.

About the speaker

Antonella Sorace is Professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. She is a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. A short biography for her can be found here.