About

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I’m currently an Assistant Professor in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at California State University, East Bay.

My research focuses on language changes throughout the life span, particularly in bilingualism and aging. I’m particularly interested in how both internal (i.e., developmental) and external (i.e., environmental) factors shape language use, how cognitive processes interact with language processes, and how the brain changes in response to these influences. I take a highly interdisciplinary approach to my research, having received training in Linguistics, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences, Psychology, Neuroscience, Spanish, and Applied Linguistics.

My work on bilingualism centers around the idea of cross-linguistic influence, meaning how languages interact with each other in the mind and brain to produce novel language use patterns. I believe the language user must be seen as a whole, considering language experience and use in all languages, in order to understand processes such as language acquisition and attrition, and in order to interpret language use patterns that differ for bilinguals and monolinguals. My current focus is on changes to native language processing as a result of second language acquisition in childhood and adulthood. I have recently completed a study investigating how the level of proficiency in the second language impacts response speed during a word retrieval task in the first language. I also looked at the relationship between degree of bilingualism and two cognitive skills: inhibitory control and task-switching.

My research on aging investigates how cognitive and language processes interact in normal aging and their relation to brain structure measures. It is well documented that cognitive skills decline in older age and some language skills also decline. At the present time, it is unknown to what degree these declines are interdependent or independent. I analyzed a large sample of data from the Language in the Aging Brain laboratory in Boston to investigate what types of cognitive skills play a role in word retrieval skills in older adults. We found that shifting ability predicted word retrieval success and verbal fluency predicted word retrieval speed. These findings suggest that the maintenance of certain executive functions in aging may aid word retrieval.

My doctoral dissertation investigated how closely the two languages’ syntactic systems overlap in bilinguals. I used electrophysiology (ERPs) to index processing patterns of a syntactic structure that exists in only the second language in order to see whether these bilinguals can in fact utilize this structure in their first language. The findings indicate that Spanish-English bilinguals are able to make sense of ungrammatical Spanish sentences whose translations in English are grammatical, which strongly suggests that they are able to utilize their knowledge of English grammar even when processing sentences in Spanish. This is one of the first studies showing native language adaptation in bilinguals using brain measures.

Courses I have taught at Cal State, East Bay include Introduction to Communication Disorders, Multicultural Issues in Communication Disorders, Multilingualism in the U.S., and Neuroanatomy and Neurophysiology of the Speech, Language, and Hearing Mechanism. I previously taught Multilingualism in the U.S. and Introduction to Psycholinguistics in the Linguistics and Communication Disorders program at Queens College.

Curriculum Vitae: Eve Higby CV May2020

Photo credit: Alessandra Macbeth

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