Last week we launched a chapter of Bilingualism Matters at UC Riverside. Bilingualism Matters is an organization that helps to communicate research on bi- and multilingualism to members of the local community. Many people are dealing with questions related to bilingualism, including educators, speech-language pathologists, and parents. Community members who don’t have access to the published research, much of which sits behind expensive journal subscription paywalls, are curious about what bilingual language development is like, what the best age to learn another language is, and whether speech errors during language development are normal or indicate some type of developmental issue. Bilingualism Matters focuses on outreach efforts, Q&A sessions, and a reliable resource for information on bilingualism.
The UCR chapter is the 3rd Bilingualism Matters chapter in the United States and the first one on the west coast. The co-directors of the new UCR chapter are Dr. Judith Kroll and Dr. Covadonga Lamar Prieto. They kicked off the launch with a full day of training on Bilingualism Matters by Dr. Antonella Sorace, the founder and director of Bilingualism Matters and a research professor at the University of Edinburgh. Then we held a one-day workshop showcasing a wide variety of research on bilingualism conducted by researchers all over Southern California.
I had the opportunity to present some of my new research in the poster session at the workshop. The poster explains the study design for the experiment that I just started this week as well as pilot data that I collected last spring on a simplified version of the design. The goal of this study is to investigate the use of cognitive control during word retrieval and to see how this may be different for bilinguals and monolinguals (or for different types of bilinguals) and in the context of aging.
To see a copy of the poster, click here: Higby_BilMatters_Oct 2017
It’s official! I’ve just started an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship. The project is an extension of what I began when I came to UCR a year ago. I’ve been looking at the engagement of cognitive control mechanisms during word retrieval. The NSF fellowship allows me to relate language and cognitive performance with brain changes in aging, specifically white matter tracts. It will allow me to get training on Diffusion Tensor Imaging and also gives me more time to work on this project. I’m grateful to the NSF for the funding and my many mentors on this project: Judy Kroll, Debby Burke, Chris Chiarello, and Lani Bennett.
The project is titled “Neural and cognitive changes in aging and bilingualism: Implications for language production and executive function.”
Our abstract was accepted for the Psychonomic Society meeting in Vancouver in November! I’ll be presenting a poster titled Conflict regulation during bilingual lexical production Judith Kroll and Deborah Burke. I will present early data from my postdoc project at UC Riverside.
Here is the abstract of our poster. Hope to see some of you at the meeting!
To plan speech, bilinguals must select appropriate words among competing alternatives both within the target and non-target language. These demands on lexical selection engage regulatory mechanisms, such as monitoring and inhibitory control, but the precise nature of this regulation is not well understood. The first goal of the present study was to investigate the types of regulation that are involved when bilinguals plan spoken words. Spanish-English bilinguals named colored pictures in a task-switching paradigm (naming either the object or the color of the object). Distractors (color and object words) were presented before the picture to enhance attentional conflict or to induce lexical conflict. A second goal was to ask how variation in bilingual language experience influences language regulation ability. We hypothesized that early age of second language acquisition, high proficiency in both languages, and language immersion experience may modulate the relative contribution of different mechanisms of language control.
I had a great time in Limerick, Ireland at the International Symposium on Bilingualism. This is one of my favorite conferences to go to because it brings together so many people who are investigating bilingualism in many different ways.
My talk focused on whether the degree of influence that the second language has on the first language is affected by the age of second language acquisition. One might expect that early bilinguals, who learn both languages simultaneously or in short succession, might experience greater influence of their second language on their first because their language systems are still quite malleable. Late bilinguals, who learned the second language in adolescence or older, may not experience as much of a change to their first language upon acquiring the second.
What my data show is that both early and late bilinguals showed the same type of influence of the second language on the first. This finding (along with other studies) suggests that the first language is malleable to language experiences even in adolescence or adulthood. We never stop adapting!
It was a pleasure to hear a keynote presentation from Jean-Marc Dewaele, whose talk was informative and funny, and overall delightful.
I just found out that I got accepted into the NIH-funded 2-week fMRI training course at the University of Michigan to be held in August. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn about the physics of MRI, study design, and data acquisition and analysis. I’m looking forward to using this training to design a neuroimaging study of bilingual older adults that I can run at the new Center for Advanced Neuroimaging at UC Riverside.
Here is info on the annual course: https://fmri-training-course.psych.lsa.umich.edu/
Two weeks ago I attended the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Austin, TX. There were several interesting talks and some really great keynotes. I gave two presentations. One was a talk on second-language influence on first-language sentence comprehension that was part of a session on language processing and acquisition (pictured). I presented some of my electrophysiology results and discussed how the results might lead to models of bilingual syntactic representation. We had a great audience for the session with insightful questions. I’m happy to see the interest in bilingual language processing at this meeting.
The other presentation I gave was a poster on non-native phonemic perception. We looked at allophonic pairs in Spanish that are contrastive in English. Since these allophones have different phonotactic constraints in Spanish, we asked whether those constraints influence the ability to perceive the phonemic pair contrastively in their non-native language, English. If you want to see the poster, head over to my publications page and click on the poster title to download it!
Last week I presented my work at two conferences. At the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) annual convention in Philadelphia, I was part of a special session on Bilingual Sentence Processing organized by Henrike Blumenfeld. My talk was titled “Using two languages to understand anomalous sentences.” I discussed how bilinguals have a large linguistic “toolbox” containing what they know about both languages. This toolbox is brought to use when comprehending language, thus allowing bilinguals to interpret sentences using any grammatical tools at their disposal.
I also presented two posters at the annual meeting of the Psychonomic Society, which was held in Boston. The first is also based on my dissertation data (pictured above), titled “Learning a second language influences first-language grammar processing.” Here I discuss how early and late bilinguals process sentences in their native language that are ungrammatical based on the native language grammar but grammatical in their second-language grammar. We are in the process of collecting data from Spanish and English monolinguals to use as comparison.
The other poster is a collaboration with colleagues at Brooklyn College and the Australian National University titled “A beneficial effect of orthography on native Spanish speakers’ ability to distinguish non-native phonemic contrasts.” This study looked at late bilinguals’ ability to distinguish four English phonemic contrasts (two consonantal, two vocalic) in pseudo-words with and without printed spellings. Their performance was also related to individual scores on an English decoding task and a second-language proficiency measure.
It was my first time attending ASHA and second time attending Psychonomics and they were both very interesting and stimulating environments. I’ve come home with a lot of research ideas, which I hope will develop into some interesting collaborations and lines of research.
Copies of the posters can be found on my ResearchGate and Academic.edu profiles.