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Regular version of the site

Invited speakers

Barbara Köpke

Octogone-Lordat, University of Toulouse (UT2)

From cross-linguistic transfer to attrition. The whys and the whens.

While research in first language attrition has progressively made its place in research on bilingual development, little is known about when and how attrition begins and why it seems to be observable in some bilinguals and not in others. The aim of this talk will be to review the literature for discussion of both questions.

First of all, first language attrition will be situated with respect to cross-linguistic influence (Sharwood Smith, 1983) as documented abundantly in research on bilingual language processing, and with respect to more recent frameworks of dominance shift (e.g., Birdsong, 2018). We will then turn to the whens of first language attrition with a discussion of the timelines involved in these processes. Of special interest to this question are data about the effects of reexposure to an attrited language in children and adults. This will lead us to consider the ‘whys’ of language attrition, a topic that has received a lot of attention in previous research, but surprisingly few responses. An attempt will be made to go beyond the classical approaches of extralinguistic factors taking into account neurolinguistic models of language processing.


Antonella Sorace 

University of Edinburgh

The ecology of L2 learning and L1 change in bilingualism

Recent research has shown that a speaker’s first language (L1) changes in selective ways upon exposure to a second language (L2): this phenomenon is known as ‘attrition’. The aspects of L1 grammar affected by change are the same that remain variable even in highly proficient L2 speakers of the same language. Why do we see this convergence between L1 change and L2 acquisition when we compare different groups, and only for some language structures? Is there a relationship between openness of the L1 to change and level of L2 attainment? I will consider some possible accounts, examining their strengths and weaknesses in the light of available data from different bilingual contexts and language combinations. At this stage, three general conclusions are possible: first, we should treat L1 attrition as a natural consequence of language contact, first in the bilingual brain and then in bilingual communities, which may eventually lead to language change; second, understanding the big picture requires serious consideration of individual differences; third, it also requires interdisciplinary research on different aspects of bilingualism that combines the insights of linguistic, cognitive and social models.

Antonella Sorace’s biography:

Antonella Sorace is Professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. She is a world leading authority and has published widely in the field of bilingualism across the lifespan, where she brings together methods from linguistics, experimental psychology, and cognitive science. She is also committed to bringing research to people in different sectors of society. She is the founding director of the research and information centre Bilingualism Matters, which currently has 27 branches in three different continents.


Arturo E. Hernandez 

University of Houston

Sensorimotor plasticity and cognitive flexiblity: A Neuoremergentist approach

To date, studies of language and cognitive development have focused on two separate levels, the sensorimotor plasticity needed to adjust to new input and the cognitive flexibility needed to select between these competing sources of information.  This talk will discuss both these levels with regard to the neurocognitive adaptations seen in bilinguals.  This will include structural brain differences in monolinguals and bilinguals that vary in the age of second language acquisition.  In the second part, of the talk work that has focused on the cognitive flexibility.  Work showing adaptations of the basal ganglia and frontostriatal tracts as a gating mechanism crucial for selecting the correct motor response will be presented.  The ways in which sensorimotor plasticity and cognitive flexibility represent accurate but incomplete conceptualizations of the competitive processes involved in language and cognitive processing will be discussed.  The talk will conclude with discussion of a novel framework Neuroemergentism which sees language development as involving the organization and reorganization of cognition and its underlying neural substrate.

Arturo Hernandez’s biography:

Arturo E. Hernandez is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston. His major research interest is in the neural underpinnings of bilingual language processing and second language acquisition in children and adults. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.  Hernandez has been a member of the NIH, Language and Communication Study Section and a National Academies Panel on English Language Learners and currently serves as the Editor-In-Chief of Journal of Neurolinguistics.  In 2002, he was awarded an NSF postdoctoral fellowship to spend a year as a visiting professor at the Max Planck Institute for Mind and Brain in Leipzig, Germany.  In 2014, he was awarded the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award to spend a year visiting Prof. Dr. Christian Fiebach at the Goethe University of Frankfurt.  More recently, his work has led to a new theoretical framework called Neurocomputational Emergentism which seeks to understand how the brain and cognition dynamically reorganize themselves over time to produce higher-level processes such as language. Hernandez has also been influenced by having learned four languages at various points during his life.  In 2019, he was awarded a Fulbright scholar award to expand his research on bilingualism and aging while visiting the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language in San Sebastian, Spain.


Monika S. Schmid 

University of Essex

'Slipping through my fingers': under what circumstances do multilingual migrants lose or maintain their native language?

It is a well-established finding that speakers who use more than one language in their daily lives develop increased variability concerning their L1 skills across the full range of the linguistic repertoire, from phonetics through the lexicon and morphosyntax to pragmatics and beyond. This talk will first review the solid empirical basis of research on these linguistic aspects of language attrition, summarising the state-of-the-art of knowledge on both the scope and the limits of this development. In the second part of my talk, I will turn to explanatory approaches and attempts at identifying predictive factors, asking which features of an individual's personal background, language habits and experience, and attitudes and motivation may contribute to making someone a good vs. a poor L1 maintainer. As I will show, knowledge on these predictors of change and variability in attriting populations is far more limited to date than on the linguistic aspects of attrition. In particular, the commonsense notion of 'use it or lose it' has – perhaps surprisingly – received very little empirical support.

I propose that the current lack of insight into the predictors of attrition is, at least in part, due to two factors: firstly, the fact that investigations of L1 attrition are typically limited to data from the first language (while investigations of second language acquisition tend to ignore changes to the L1 and treat it as a stable and invariable baseline) and secondly, the fact that statistical models based on linear relationships (i.e., regression slopes) fall short of capturing the full picture. I propose an integrated perspective, capable of treating both L1 and L2 skills as part of an overall continuum which can best be captured in multi-dimensional, multi-directional and multi-factorial models. I will demonstrate how such an approach can contribute substantially to our understanding of the manner and degree to which a native language may (or may not) change within the lifespan of a single bilingual individual.

Monika Schmid’s biography:

Monika S. Schmid is Head of Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex. She obtained her PhD in English Linguistics in 2000 from the Heinrich-Heine Universität Düsseldorf. The topic of her thesis was First Language Attrition, Use and Maintenance: the case of German Jews in Anglophone Countries. She has since held positions at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Since September 2013 she has been a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Essex.

Her work has focused on various aspects of first language attrition. She has published two monographs and edited several collected volumes and special issues of journals on this topic, most recently the Oxford Handbook of Language Attrition (2019). She has received funding from various sources, including the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, the Dutch National Science Foundation NWO and the Economics and Social Sciences Research Council (ESRC) for her work.

Website: https:/languageattrition.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/languageattrition

Twitter: @MonikaSSchmid


Zohar Eviatar

University of Haifa

Reading in Different Languages: Early Differences and Late Similarities

The talk begins with a brief description of the neural and cognitive mechanisms involved in reading. I then describe the variability among writing systems and how reading in different orthographies can result in differences in the neural and cognitive mechanisms during reading.  I present data showing differential hemispheric involvement in letter and word identification in English, Arabic, and Hebrew, suggesting that different writing systems make different types of demands on the cerebral hemispheres in the very early stages of reading. I then present data comparing eye movements when native speakers of Arabic and Hebrew read texts in their native language, and in a typologically similar and typologically different second language. Eye movements measure both early and late processes during reading, and also show differences in early components and similarities in late components. I discuss the envelope into which it seems all literacy has to fit, with certain accommodations for specific languages, and how this can be represented in multi-literates.  If time permits I will present data on reading in a di-glossic context.


Marit Westergaard
UiT The Arctic University of Norway and NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Exploring bilingual effects on cognition through grammatical illusions 

Evelina Leivada (Universitat Rovira i Virgili),
Natalia Mitrofanova (UiT The Arctic University of Norway)
Marit Westergaard 

Different developmental trajectories may have a profound impact on cognition. It has been repeatedly argued that bilingualism confers a cognitive advantage that ranges from delaying the onset of some neurodegenerative diseases to enhanced performance in tasks that tap into executive functions. However, despite the plenitude of studies that attest to the presence of this advantage, its existence is challenged on firm experimental grounds. The relevant literature involves mixed reports suggesting that bilinguals do not always outperform monolinguals, or they do it only sporadically in some conditions. The difference between monolinguals and bilinguals, and consequently the bilingual advantage itself, has been approached almost exclusively through executive function tasks. When linguistic tasks are employed, these largely measure lexical fluency, not grammar. In other words, using grammar as a way of approaching the bilingual advantage is still unexplored. In this work, we use an online task that features grammatical illusions (1) to shed light on the existence of a bilingual (dis)advantage in the domain of language processing.

(1) More people have been to Russia than I have. (Montalbetti 1984)

Cognitive illusions have the peculiar ability to trick the cognitive parser into giving an incorrect response. For example, the grammatical illusion in (1) may elicit judgments of well-formedness, despite the fact that it is actually ill-formed. We compare monolinguals and bilinguals in terms of (i) their ability to detect the illusory effect and (ii) their reaction times. Our results reveal that the mental juggling entailed by the constant activation/suppression of a first/second language facilitates an enhanced ability to detect illusions and assign them a low acceptability rating. At the same time, bilinguals are found to be slower than monolinguals in providing judgments for the linguistic stimuli they are presented with, both illusions and filler sentences in the task. We advance the hypothesis of a fitness trade-off, according to which an advantage in one measure must be accompanied by a disadvantage in another measure. Furthermore, building on previous work, we examine the conditions that are most likely to yield robust sightings of bilingual effects on cognition, approaching bilingualism as a spectrum experience.

Marit Westegaard’s biography:

Marit Westegaard works in a vibrant linguistics community at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, where she is Director of the AcqVA Aurora Centre (Acquisition, Variation & Attrition): The Dynamic Nature of Languages in the Mind. She also holds a 20% professorship at NTNU Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. Together with Professor Terje Lohndal, she directs the joint UiT/NTNU research group AcqVA. Terje and her are also leading the project MultiGender: A Multilingual Approach to Grammatical Gender at the Centre for Advanced Study (Oslo), 2019-2020.

Her research interests include first, second/third and bilingual language acquisition, heritage languages and language attrition, as well as comparative syntax, both modern and diachronic. For many years, the focus of her research in these areas has been on the syntax of word order. More recently, her interest also includes the internal structure of the DP, especially grammatical gender, definiteness and word order in possessive constructions.