Referring expressions and executive functions in child and adult bilinguals

Antonella Sorace (University of Edinburgh)


Reference tracking requires the language user to both infer appropriate pronoun-referent mappings and dynamically update the discourse model following a change of referent status. Recent research on the so-called ‘syntax-pragmatics interface’ (e.g. Sorace & Serratrice 2009; Sorace 2011; 2011; Chamorro, Sorace & Sturt 2015) shows that pronouns and other referring expressions requiring efficient updating of context-dependent information (a) develop late in bilingual children; (b) remain variable even in highly proficient second language speakers, and (c) become unstable in speakers experiencing native language attrition from a second language. In contrast, more narrowly linguistic structure types that are less dependent on the integration of unpredictable contextual information are more stable in all three bilingual populations. I will explore a possible account of these phenomena based on effects of the bilingual experience on executive functions and how these effects may in turn interact with bilingual language processing in specific ways.