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Concept: Multilingualism


Recent studies suggest that learning and using a second language (L2) can affect brain structure, including the structure of white matter (WM) tracts. This observation comes from research looking at early and older bilingual individuals who have been using both their first and second languages on an everyday basis for many years. This study investigated whether young, highly immersed late bilinguals would also show structural effects in the WM that can be attributed to everyday L2 use, irrespective of critical periods or the length of L2 learning. Our Tract-Based Spatial Statistics analysis revealed higher fractional anisotropy values for bilinguals vs. monolinguals in several WM tracts that have been linked to language processing and in a pattern closely resembling the results reported for older and early bilinguals. We propose that learning and actively using an L2 after childhood can have rapid dynamic effects on WM structure, which in turn may assist in preserving WM integrity in older age.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Statistics, Cognition, Cerebellum, Language, Second language, Multilingualism


Neurobilingualism research has failed to reveal significant language differences in the processing of affective content. However, the evidence to date derives mostly from studies in which affective stimuli are presented out of context, which is unnatural and fails to capture the complexity of everyday sentence-based communication. Here we investigated semantic integration of affectively salient stimuli in sentential context in the first- and second-language (L2) of late fluent Polish-English bilinguals living in the UK. The 19 participants indicated whether Polish and English sentences ending with a semantically and affectively congruent or incongruent adjective of controlled affective valence made sense while undergoing behavioral and electrophysiological recordings. We focused on the N400, a wave of event-related potentials known to index semantic integration. We expected N400 amplitude to index increased processing demands in L2 English comprehension and potential language-valence interactions to reveal differences in affective processing between languages. Contrary to our initial expectation, we found increased N400 for sentences in L1 Polish, possibly driven by greater affective salience of sentences in the native language. Critically, language interacted with affective valence, such that N400 amplitudes were reduced for English sentences ending in a negative fashion as compared to all other conditions. We interpreted this as a sign that bilinguals suppress L2 content embedded in naturalistic L2 sentences when it has negative valence, thus extending the findings of previous research on single words in clinical and linguistic research.

Concepts: Linguistics, Language, Second language, Semantics, French language, Neurolinguistics, Semiotics, Multilingualism


Bilinguals often switch languages depending on what they are saying. According to the Emotion-Related Language Choice theory, they find their second language an easier medium of conveying content which evokes strong emotions. The first language carries too much emotional power, which can be threatening for the speaker. In a covert experiment, bilingual Polish students translated texts brimming with expletives from Polish into English and vice versa. In the Polish translations, the swear word equivalents used were weaker than in the source text; in the English translations, they were stronger than in the original. These results corroborate the ERLC theory. However, the effect was only observed for ethnophaulisms, i.e. expletives directed at social groups. It turns out that the main factor triggering the language choice in bilinguals is not necessarily the different emotional power of both languages, but social and cultural norms.

Concepts: Sociology, Linguistics, Language, Second language, Translation, Multilingualism, Concepts, Source text


Cognitive reserve (CR) prevents cognitive decline and delays neurodegeneration. Recent epidemiological evidence suggests that lifelong bilingualism may act as CR delaying the onset of dementia by ∼4.5 y. Much controversy surrounds the issue of bilingualism and its putative neuroprotective effects. We studied brain metabolism, a direct index of synaptic function and density, and neural connectivity to shed light on the effects of bilingualism in vivo in Alzheimer’s dementia (AD). Eighty-five patients with probable AD and matched for disease duration (45 German-Italian bilingual speakers and 40 monolingual speakers) were included. Notably, bilingual individuals were on average 5 y older than their monolingual peers. In agreement with our predictions and with models of CR, cerebral hypometabolism was more severe in the group of bilingual individuals with AD. The metabolic connectivity analyses crucially supported the neuroprotective effect of bilingualism by showing an increased connectivity in the executive control and the default mode networks in the bilingual, compared with the monolingual, AD patients. Furthermore, the degree of lifelong bilingualism (i.e., high, moderate, or low use) was significantly correlated to functional modulations in crucial neural networks, suggesting both neural reserve and compensatory mechanisms. These findings indicate that lifelong bilingualism acts as a powerful CR proxy in dementia and exerts neuroprotective effects against neurodegeneration. Delaying the onset of dementia is a top priority of modern societies, and the present in vivo neurobiological evidence should stimulate social programs and interventions to support bilingual or multilingual education and the maintenance of the second language among senior citizens.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Neuron, Neuroscience, Neurology, Dementia, Caregiving and dementia, Multilingualism, Multilingual Education


Post-stroke prognoses are usually inductive, generalizing trends learned from one group of patients, whose outcomes are known, to make predictions for new patients. Research into the recovery of language function is almost exclusively focused on monolingual stroke patients, but bilingualism is the norm in many parts of the world. If bilingual language recruits qualitatively different networks in the brain, prognostic models developed for monolinguals might not generalize well to bilingual stroke patients. Here, we sought to establish how applicable post-stroke prognostic models, trained with monolingual patient data, are to bilingual stroke patients who had been ordinarily resident in the UK for many years. We used an algorithm to extract binary lesion images for each stroke patient, and assessed their language with a standard tool. We used feature selection and cross-validation to find ‘good’ prognostic models for each of 22 different language skills, using monolingual data only (174 patients; 112 males and 62 females; age at stroke: mean = 53.0 years, standard deviation = 12.2 years, range = 17.2-80.1 years; time post-stroke: mean = 55.6 months, standard deviation = 62.6 months, range = 3.1-431.9 months), then made predictions for both monolinguals and bilinguals (33 patients; 18 males and 15 females; age at stroke: mean = 49.0 years, standard deviation = 13.2 years, range = 23.1-77.0 years; time post-stroke: mean = 49.2 months, standard deviation = 55.8 months, range = 3.9-219.9 months) separately, after training with monolingual data only. We measured group differences by comparing prediction error distributions, and used a Bayesian test to search for group differences in terms of lesion-deficit associations in the brain. Our models distinguish better outcomes from worse outcomes equally well within each group, but tended to be over-optimistic when predicting bilingual language outcomes: our bilingual patients tended to have poorer language skills than expected, based on trends learned from monolingual data alone, and this was significant (P < 0.05, corrected for multiple comparisons) in 13/22 language tasks. Both patient groups appeared to be sensitive to damage in the same sets of regions, though the bilinguals were more sensitive than the monolinguals.

Concepts: Statistics, Prediction, Futurology, Arithmetic mean, Standard deviation, Deviation, Multilingualism, Bilingual education


The decline of cognitive skills throughout healthy or pathological aging can be slowed down by experiences which foster cognitive reserve (CR). Recently, some studies on Alzheimer’s disease have suggested that CR may be enhanced by life-long bilingualism. However, the evidence is inconsistent and largely based on retrospective approaches featuring several methodological weaknesses. Some studies demonstrated at least 4 years of delay in dementia symptoms, while others did not find such an effect. Moreover, various methodological aspects vary from study to study. The present paper addresses contradictory findings, identifies possible lurking variables, and outlines methodological alternatives thereof. First, we characterize possible confounding factors that may have influenced extant results. Our focus is on the criteria to establish bilingualism, differences in sample design, the instruments used to examine cognitive skills, and the role of variables known to modulate life-long cognition. Second, we propose that these limitations could be largely circumvented through experimental approaches. Proficiency in the non-native language can be successfully assessed by combining subjective and objective measures; confounding variables which have been distinctively associated with certain bilingual groups (e.g., alcoholism, sleep disorders) can be targeted through relevant instruments; and cognitive status might be better tapped via robust cognitive screenings and executive batteries. Moreover, future research should incorporate tasks yielding predictable patterns of contrastive performance between bilinguals and monolinguals. Crucially, these include instruments which reveal bilingual disadvantages in vocabulary, null effects in working memory, and advantages in inhibitory control and other executive functions. Finally, paradigms tapping proactive interference (which assess the disruptive effect of long-term memory on newly learned information) could also offer useful data, since this phenomenon seems to be better managed by bilinguals and it becomes conspicuous in early stages of dementia. Such considerations may shed light not just on the relationship between bilingualism and CR, but also on more general mechanisms of cognitive compensation.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Cognition, Neurology, Memory, Dementia, Working memory, Executive functions, Multilingualism


The mastery of two languages provides bilingual speakers with cognitive benefits over monolinguals, particularly on cognitive flexibility and selective attention. However, extant research is limited to comparisons between monolinguals and bilinguals at a single point in time. This study investigated whether growth in bilingual proficiency, as shown by an increased number of translation equivalents (TEs) over a 7-month period, improves executive function. We hypothesized that bilingual toddlers with a larger increase of TEs would have more practice in switching across lexical systems, boosting executive function abilities. Expressive vocabulary and TEs were assessed at 24 and 31months of age. A battery of tasks, including conflict, delay, and working memory tasks, was administered at 31months. As expected, we observed a task-specific advantage in inhibitory control in bilinguals. More important, within the bilingual group, larger increases in the number of TEs predicted better performance on conflict tasks but not on delay tasks. This unique longitudinal design confirms the relation between executive function and early bilingualism.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Attention, Cognitive psychology, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Working memory, Executive functions, Multilingualism


It is a widely held belief that bilinguals have an advantage over monolinguals in executive-control tasks, but is this what all studies actually demonstrate? The idea of a bilingual advantage may result from a publication bias favoring studies with positive results over studies with null or negative effects. To test this hypothesis, we looked at conference abstracts from 1999 to 2012 on the topic of bilingualism and executive control. We then determined which of the studies they reported were subsequently published. Studies with results fully supporting the bilingual-advantage theory were most likely to be published, followed by studies with mixed results. Studies challenging the bilingual advantage were published the least. This discrepancy was not due to differences in sample size, tests used, or statistical power. A test for funnel-plot asymmetry provided further evidence for the existence of a publication bias.

Concepts: Scientific method, Sample size, Type I and type II errors, Academic publishing, Statistical hypothesis testing, Null hypothesis, Statistical power, Multilingualism


Diffusion tensor imaging was used to compare white matter structure between American monolingual and Spanish-English bilingual adults living in the United States. In the bilingual group, relationships between white matter structure and naturalistic immersive experience in listening to and speaking English were additionally explored. White matter structural differences between groups were found to be bilateral and widespread. In the bilingual group, experience in listening to English was more robustly correlated with decreases in radial and mean diffusivity in anterior white matter regions of the left hemisphere, whereas experience in speaking English was more robustly correlated with increases in fractional anisotropy in more posterior left hemisphere white matter regions. The findings suggest that (a) foreign language immersion induces neuroplasticity in the adult brain, (b) the degree of alteration is proportional to language experience, and © the modes of immersive language experience have more robust effects on different brain regions and on different structural features.

Concepts: Neuroimaging, Cerebrum, Second language, Diffusion MRI, Multilingualism, Foreign language, Language education, Language immersion


Early language exposure is essential to developing a formal language system, but may not be sufficient for communicating effectively. To understand a speaker’s intention, one must take the speaker’s perspective. Multilingual exposure may promote effective communication by enhancing perspective taking. We tested children on a task that required perspective taking to interpret a speaker’s intended meaning. Monolingual children failed to interpret the speaker’s meaning dramatically more often than both bilingual children and children who were exposed to a multilingual environment but were not bilingual themselves. Children who were merely exposed to a second language performed as well as bilingual children, despite having lower executive-function scores. Thus, the communicative advantages demonstrated by the bilinguals may be social in origin, and not due to enhanced executive control. For millennia, multilingual exposure has been the norm. Our study shows that such an environment may facilitate the development of perspective-taking tools that are critical for effective communication.

Concepts: Linguistics, Second language, Logic, Communication, Multilingualism, Formal grammar, First language, Formal system