|Author:||Hui, Nga Yan|
|Title:||Experience and bilingual advantage : an exploration of individual variation|
|Advisors:||Wang, Shiyuan William (CBS)|
|Department:||Department of Chinese and Bilingual Studies|
|Pages:||xiii, 145 pages : color illustrations|
|Abstract:||Bilingualism has been attracting interest from the cognitive science field for years as it is suggested to be a protective factor against cognitive decline in ageing. It is often reported that bilinguals performed better than monolinguals in inhibitory control tasks. The mechanism behind the better inhibitory control was that bilinguals would have to suppress the interference from the unwanted language all the time, and such linguistic control is thought to be, at least partially, overlapped with the general inhibitory control network. However, inconsistent results have been reported. It is common for the literature to compare monolinguals with bilinguals as two homogenous groups without considering the individual variations between and among them. Moreover, as the Adaptive Control Hypothesis (Green & Abutalebi, 2013) suggested, the interaction context affects the cognitive demand in controlling the languages. Three experiments were designed to explore how different aspects of bilingualism contribute to cognition and the bilingual advantage effect.|
The first experiment recruited older adults to complete a comprehensive set of cognitive tests together with questionnaires on their language and demographic profiles. Comparing the monolinguals and bilinguals, we found the classic bilingual advantage effect: bilinguals scored higher in the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), indicating better cognitive status. Moreover, within the bilinguals, the scores in the cognitive battery were predicted with demographic and linguistic variables using linear regression analysis. We found that L2 proficiency predicts better inhibitory control and verbal ability performance in lifelong bilinguals. We propose that, because our participants are L1-dominant speakers, only the sufficiently proficient L2 would provide enough interference in the practice of linguistic inhibition control.
The second experiment investigated the cognitive changes in older foreign language learners. Older adults were recruited to study in an elementary English course for six weeks, with cognitive tests taken before and after the course. Although the statistical results between the intervention group and the active and passive control groups were not significant, the language learning-induced differences were observed in some tasks, including the accuracy of Picture Naming and the Conflicting Effect in the Attention Network Task. Correlation analysis suggested that successful language learners showed an improvement in inhibitory control and a decline in verbal fluency.
The third experiment investigated the organisation of the mental lexicon through an interesting language phenomenon in Hong Kong: dense code-switching. Whereas the literature often suggested that the comprehension of code-switching requires a switch in lexicon and is therefore challenging, we found that switching lexicon was needed only in the case of non-habitual word usage, regardless of whether it was unilingual and code-switching. From the result of this experiment, we proposed that the language input from the community had formed the bilingual prefabs, which integrated into the dominantly Cantonese lexicon.
Collectively, we suggest that the environment, language and cognition form a looping circle in that each component is interrelated. Moreover, they each affect the organisation of the bilingual mental lexicon and the retrieval of concepts from the lexicon. In view of that, we propose the Experience-based Bilingual Mental Lexicon Model, which is modified based on the Revised Hierarchical Model (Kroll & Stewart, 1994). Two critical assumptions are incorporated into the existing model: (1) the language lexicon is organised by experience but not by language origin, and (2) language dominance is dynamic. We believe the proposed model could better capture the dynamic change of language by experience. It could explain how individual differences contribute to the bilingual advantage effect.
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