The Listening Bilingual
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The Listening Bilingual

Speech Perception, Comprehension, and Bilingualism

François Grosjean, Krista Byers-Heinlein

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eBook - ePub

The Listening Bilingual

Speech Perception, Comprehension, and Bilingualism

François Grosjean, Krista Byers-Heinlein

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About This Book

A vital resource on speech and language processing in bilingual adults and children

The Listening Bilingual brings together in one volume the various components of spoken language processing in bilingual adults, infants and children.

The book includes a review of speech perception and word recognition; syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic aspects of speech processing; the perception and comprehension of bilingual mixed speech (code-switches, borrowings and interferences); and the assessment of bilingual speech perception and comprehension in adults and children in the clinical context.

The two main authors as well as selected guest authors, Mark Antoniou, Theres Grüter, Robert J. Hartsuiker, Elizabeth D. Peña and Lisa M. Bedore, and Lu-Feng Shi, introduce the various approaches used in the study of spoken language perception and comprehension in bilingual individuals. The authors focus on experimentation

that involves both well-established tasks and newer tasks, as well as techniques used in brain imaging.

This important resource:

  • Is the first of its kind to concentrate specifically on spoken language processing in bilingual adults and children.
  • Offers a unique text that covers both fundamental and applied research in bilinguals.
  • Covers a range of topics including speech perception, spoken word recognition, higher level processing, code-switching, and assessment.
  • Presents information on the assessment of bilingual children's language development

Written for advanced undergraduate students in linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, and speech/language pathology as well as researchers, The Listening Bilingual offers a state-of-the-art review of the recent developments and approaches in speech and language processing in bilingual people of all ages.

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Bilingual Adults and Children: A Short Introduction

François Grosjean and Krista Byers‐Heinlein


A book such as this one on a specialized topic – the perception and comprehension of speech by bilinguals – needs to begin with a brief description of bilingual adults and children.
Those who are interested in the topic may be familiar with speech perception and comprehension issues but might not know as much about bilingualism. They might also have a few misconceptions about what it means to be bilingual, both for the adult and the child. Many preconceived ideas surround bilingualism, such as that bilinguals have equal and perfect knowledge of their two or more languages, that they all acquired their languages as children, that they are competent translators, or that they do not have an accent in any of their languages. As concerns children, it was long believed that bilingualism would delay their language acquisition and create confusion, or that they would invariably mix their languages, or even that being bilingual would have negative effects on their development. The first aim of this chapter is to give a brief overview of bilingual adults and children and to lay the foundations for a better understanding of issues that relate to their perception and comprehension of speech.
A second aim is to describe what it is that bilinguals, both adults and children, bring to the studies that they take part in. When they become participants and enter the world of experimentation, they bring with them various aspects of language knowledge and processing that characterize them as “regular bilinguals.” Some of these might be studied specifically in the research itself, whilst others are controlled for, and some others might be free to vary. It is important to keep them in mind when discussing studies so as to fully understand the data that are obtained.
In the first part of this chapter, we will concentrate on a few general characteristics of bilinguals, primarily adults, since children will be covered in the second part. We will first discuss how bilinguals can be described in terms of language proficiency and language use, and how these variables play a large part in the language history of each individual bilingual. This will be followed by a rapid survey of the functions of languages as well as of language dominance. Next, language mode will be evoked and aspects such as interference, transfer, code‐switching, and borrowing will be discussed. Finally, biculturalism will be mentioned, as will the impact it can have on language knowledge and processing.
In the second part of the chapter, we will discuss special issues related to bilingual children. First, we will overview the different ages and the different ways that children become bilingual. Next, we will talk about the important role of language exposure in early bilingualism, and how researchers evaluate whether a very young child should be considered bilingual or not. We will then provide a brief overview of language acquisition in infancy and early childhood, and outline several key differences between bilingual children and adults. Finally, we will discuss how bilingual children use language in their lives and include topics such as language dominance and code‐switching.

General Aspects of Bilingualism

Language Proficiency, Use, and History

A quick survey of definitions of bilingualism over the years reveals the presence of two important factors that characterize bilinguals – language proficiency and language use. In the early years of bilingualism research, language proficiency was put forward as the main defining factor, and it remains the feature most mentioned by lay people when speaking about the topic. Hence, in his now famous definition, Bloomfield (1933) stated that bilingualism is the native‐like control of two languages. Realizing that bilinguals are rarely equally fluent in their languages, Haugen (1969) stayed with proficiency but offered a much less constraining definition: bilingualism begins at the point where the speaker of one language can produce complete, meaningful utterances in the other language.
Whilst some researchers continued describing bilinguals in terms of language proficiency, others were stressing another factor, language use. Hence Weinreich (1953) defined bilingualism as the practice of alternately using two languages, and Mackey (1962), a few years later, considered bilingualism as the alternate use of two or more languages by the same individual. Over the years, this definition of bilingualism has been adopted by most researchers, among them Grosjean (2013), who defines it as the use of two or more languages (or dialects) in everyday life. This definition has several advantages. The first is that it does not exclude language proficiency as such since the regular use of two or more languages requires, as a matter of course, a certain level of knowledge of each language. Other advantages are that it accounts for people who use more than two languages – there are many such people in the world today – and it encompasses dialects, a linguistic reality in many countries of the world.
Most researchers would now agree that both language proficiency and language use must be taken into account when describing bilinguals. Almost fifty years ago, Fishman and Cooper (1969) showed that they were the best predictors of a number of proficiency criterion variables. Later, Grosjean (2010) presented a grid approach to take into account the two variables. To illustrate this, Figure 1.1 (top part) presents the bilingualism profile of a person at the age of 24. Language use is shown along the vertical axis (never used to daily use) and language proficiency along the horizontal axis (low proficiency to high proficiency). As can be seen, the person’s most used and most proficient language at the time was La (French). Her other language, Lb (English), was used slightly less frequently and she was slightly less proficient in it, although the level was still very high. This explains why its position is just below and to the left. She also knew a third language, Lc (German), but not very well, and she used it rarely. This person was clearly bilingual in English and French, on both factors, language use and language proficiency, and like many other bilinguals, she also had some knowledge of another language but rarely used it. Note that in this type of presentation, the position of each language can be based either on self‐assessment ratings, as in this case, or on the results of more objective tests.
Image described by caption and surrounding text.
Figure 1.1 Describing a bilingual in terms of language use and language proficiency at two moments in time: at ages 24 and 34.
This grid approach does not take into account certain aspects such as domains of language use, but it can show language evolution over time, as we will see below, and it can be used for each of the bilingual’s language skills: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. It is often the case that the proficiency bilinguals have in the four skills is not the same for their different languages: some may have good listening abilities in a language but poor speaking abilities since they do not speak the language often; others may have oral skills in a language (speaking, listening) but may not know how to write and read it, etc.
A few years after the grid approach was proposed for the first time by Grosjean, two other researchers, Luk and Bialystok (2013), provided statistical evidence that bilingual experience does indeed involve at least two dimensions, language use (they call it bilingual usage) and language proficiency, and that these dimensions are not mutually exclusive. These variables are the first building blocks of the description of the bilingual to which others need to be added, as we will see in this chapter.
The knowledge bilinguals have of their languages, and the use they make of them, do not remain static over the years. Such life events as moving to another region or country, meeting a partner, or losing a family member with whom one spoke a language exclusively, will change the pattern of knowledge and use of a language, and may be the reason for acquiring a new language or losing a language. To illustrate this evolution, we present in the bottom part of Figure 1.1 the languages of the same person but ten years later. If a language has changed position in the grid, an arrow indicates the cell it has moved to. As for the new languages, they are circled. Both La (French) and Lb (English) have remained in the same position, but because this person has moved to a German‐speaking region, Lc (German) is now used daily and its proficiency has increased. In addition, two new languages have been acquired: Ld (Spanish), which is quite well known but is not used much, and Le (Swiss German), which is used almost daily but is not yet well known. In Grosjean (2010) five grids were needed to account for the wax and wane of the languages of a 60 year old bilingual who immigrated at various points in his life.
A bilingual’s language history will reveal many features that will ultimately have an impact on language processing. We will want to know which languages were acquired, when and how, whether the cultural context was the same or different, what the pattern of proficiency and use was over the years, which language went through restructuring under the influence of another, stronger, language, and whether some languages became dormant or entered attrition. In addition, we need to know whether the bilingual is currently going through a moment of language stability or of language change where a language may suddenly acquire new importance whilst another may have less of a role to play. These transition periods, which can last several years, must be taken into account when choosing bilinguals to be participants in experiments. Language history information is usually obtained through the use of a detailed questionnaire such as The Language History Questionnaire (Li, Sepanski, and Zhao 2006). Topics that it covers, for each new language, are the age the bilingual started to learn it and the situation in which it took place, how the person a...

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