How do bilinguals learn and cope with two phonological systems?

Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (ref: PSI2012-34071)

Research on how bilinguals acquire and manage their two languages has been centered either on the relationship between both systems mostly from a linguistic point of view, or from the mechanisms of control underlying the capacity to use one language without (major) interference from the other language. In the present proposal we aim at pursuing the issue of how bilinguals’ cognitive abilities, outside the domain of language, are involved in the process of learning language.


On the one hand, a handful of empirical studies in the infant domain has provided partial evidence indicating a relationship between better cognitive control performance and mature phoneme perception performance (better native perception and worse non-native one). But the nature of the putative cognitive mechanisms remains to be determined. Additionally there is a striking inconsistency in the fact that bilingual infants have been described as showing both better cognitive control mechanisms and less mature phoneme perception performance (worse perception of native contrasts).


On the other hand, in the adult literature better speech perceivers (both for native and second languages) have shown more mature responses than worse speech perceivers. However, nothing is known on the putative differences between good and poor perceivers in cognitive tasks.


The present research will systematically explore native and non-native phoneme perception in monolingual and bilingual infants and adults and assess different dimensions of cognitive control in the participants. In this way, we aim at bringing new information on how language is learned and used in particular in the context of multilingualism.


Duration: 2013-2016