PSYC 341 Reading Group Notes 11-Baker
Chapter 7 Bilingualism and Cognition
Historically, people have viewed bilingualism as a burden on the brain, contributing to mental
confusion, identity conflicts, etc. In welsh schools kids were even beaten, or had their mouths
washed with soap and water, if they spoke two languages in school. This deficit viewpoint
argues that like a balance, the more you know in your second language, the less you’ll know in
the other one. Another common belief was that knowing two languages meant there was less
room to store other areas of learning. This chapter examines these concerns regarding
Bilingualism and “Intelligence”
A Welsh research, Saer, gathered 1400 children aged 7-14 from bilingual and monolingual
backgrounds and administered IQ tests. He found a 10point difference in IQ between bilinguals
and monolingual English speakers. He concluded that bilinguals were mentally confused and at
a disadvantage for thinking—this attitude was prevalent until the 1960’s.
But there are several methodological problems to his study (and many early studies):
The concept and definition of intelligence is controversial, and so is measuring it. Even recently,
Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences includes many intelligences (logical-mathematical,
visual-spatial, musical-rhythmical, etc). Some even suggest that there is an emotional
intelligence. So intelligence is hard to define.
There is the other issue about how IQ tests tend to relate to a middle class, white, Western view
of intelligence, so may be culturally biased. The text also suggests that majority groups may be
comfortable with these tests because they imply that the social inequalities between them and
minority groups are actually caused by the minority groups’ “lack of intelligence,” thus freeing
the majority groups of responsibility.
Language of Testing
In early research, many verbal IQ tests were administered in English only, but preferably tests
should be given in the stronger language of the bilingual. Even testing in the stronger language
may be less than fair. Tests should cater “holistically and sensitively for the dual language
capabilities of bilinguals.”
Early research usually just used simple averages when comparing groups; statical tests were
not performed. When people re-analyzed Saer’s research, they found no statistically significant
difference between the monolingual and bilingual groups!
Classification What classifies people as bilingual? Factors such as degree of fluency, whether all four abilities
of language (reading writing speaking listening) are considered, etc. should be taken into
consideration. Early research did not care for this, so results are “simplistic and ambiguous,
having classified bilinguals in an imprecise manner.”
Much of the research on bilingualism and cognition was based on convenience samples, so
cannot be generalized to other groups (ex. results on 11 year olds should not be generalized to
other age groups).
Language and cultural environment needs to be considered. Also, differences in the effects
of bilingualism may appear between bilinguals growing up in subtractive environments (child’s
native language being replaced by prestigious second language) and those where both
languages are high prestige.
The two groups being compared should be equal in all other respects (other than IQ and their
monolingual/bilingual status). A potential confound may be socioeconomic status.
Early studies share many methodological weaknesses. However, modern research has actually
shown weaknesses in bilinguals in some language processes. Ex: monolinguals’ semantic
fluency is faster than bilinguals, and bilinguals are more likely to report a “tip of the tongue” state
(can’t immediately retrieve a word). However, these effects are very small and is of little
importance in everyday life.
The period of Neutral Effects
There are a series of studies that reported no difference between bilinguals and monolinguals
Ex: Yiddish-English bilingualism/monolingualism study, found no difference in IQ. Also, another
study in Wales, after adjusting for SES, found monolinguals and bilinguals did not differ
significantly in non-verbal IQ. The researcher also concluded that SES (socioeconomic status)
accounted for much of the previous research that reported inferiority of bilinguals.
This period of neutral effects chronologically overlaps with the detrimental effects period
(described earlier) and additive effects (TBD).
The period of Additive effects
A major turning point in bilingualism research was reached by Peal and Lambert in Montreal.
Their research overcame many of the methodological deficiencies of earlier studies, and also
found that bilingualism may lead to cognitive advantages over monolingualism. -their research also lead to a broader look at cognition (looking at thinking styles and
strategies, not solely IQ).
Their study: recruited 10 year olds from middle-class French schools in Montreal. Matched them
on SES and made sure they were balanced bilinguals.
Results: bilinguals performed better on 15/18 tasks, and performed the same as monolinguals
on 3/18 tasks.
However, this study had 4 methodological weaknesses:
1. Sample of 10 year old, middle class, Montreal children cannot be generalized to the
population of bilinguals either in Canada or throughout the world. This is particularly so since the
results concern 110 children selected from 364—what happened to the other 254 that were
eliminated, how would they have performed?
2. The children in the group were balanced bilinguals, thus the results cannot be generalized to
“less balanced” bilinguals.
3. What causes what? Does bilingualism enhance IQ, or does a higher IQ increase the chances
of becoming bilingual?
4. Socioeconomic status may be controlled, but there may be residual problems—other factors
of a child’s home environment may be different (different social, cultural environment, like
attending church services in Spanish and belonging to a Latino organization with cultural
activities in Spanish)
Another area of research examines the mental representation of a bilingual’s two languages. Do
his/her languages operate independently, or interpedently?
Independent: bilinguals have independent language storage and retrieval systems with the only
channel of communication begin a translation process between the two separate system. This
hypothesis is called the separate storage hypothesis.
Interdependent: two languages are kept in a single memory store with two different language
input channels and two different language output channels—called the shared storage
Evidence exists for both, ex: Kroll suggests that lexical representations are separately stored,
while conceptual representations are shared.
But there is agreement that 1) both languages are active when just one of them is being used,
and that 2) functionally, the languages are independent (ex. when speaking, reading, etc)
Bilingualism and the Brain
A meta-analysis has shown that in monolinguals, language processing was left-hemisphere
dominated. Early bilinguals showed more bilateral involvement compared to late bilinguals.
Thus, bilinguals appear to be less left lateralized than monolinguals. Advances in neuroimaging have led bilinguals to be studied by ERP’s, PET, and fMRI.
-a study suggests that learning a second language increases the density of gray matter (also,
early bilinguals have increased density than late bilinguals).
Another study showed another difference between early bilinguals and late bilinguals
(early=both languages learnt before age 3). In early bilinguals, the two languages are found in
distinct but adjacent sites. Late bilinguals, the native and second languages are stored more
Problems with this study: sample size was only 12, so cannot generalize to worldwide
population. Also, the experiment only asked people to think about their language, not actually
speak it. In addition, the data did not show any difference between early and late bilinguals.
Finally, other research has not replicated these results, and ERP and PET results conflict this
Bilingualism and Divergent and Creative Thinking
One problem with IQ tests is that they restrict children to finding the one correct answer to each
question (this is convergent thinking). Another style is divergent or creative thinking—for
example, asking instead: how many uses can you think of for a brick?
The divergent thinker will produce not only many different answers, but some that may be fairly
In North America, it is referred to as Creative Thinking, measured by the “Uses of an Object”
test. Four scores are assigned—a fluency score (number of answers), flexibility (number of
different categories into which answers can be placed), originality, and elaboration (the extent
of the extra detail that a person gives beyond the basic use of an object.
-the hypothesis is that knowing more languages may increase creative thinking, since bilinguals
will have more words for a single idea (ex. ysgol means a school but also a ladder—thus,
bilinguals have more associations for a word).
Research shows that bilinguals are superior to monolinguals on divergent thinking tests.
Balanced bilinguals were superior to non-balanced bilinguals on fluency, flexibility, and also
marginally on originality. Monolinguals were similar to balanced bilinguals on fluency and
flexibility but scored higher than the non-balanced group. On originality, monolinguals scored
similarly to the non-balanced bilinguals and lower than the balanced group.
-these results did not really attain statistical significance because of the small sample size.
Cummins proposed a theory explaining these results with a threshold: the difference between
balanced and non-balanced bilinguals is explained by this threshold. Once children have
obtained a certain level of competence in the second language, positive cognitive
consequences can result, but if below a threshold, may fail to give cognitive benefits.
Some caveats: -Linguistic creativity differences were found in kids under 14, but older bilinguals were ahead on
only one of the four measures. Also, “creativity” ca