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.

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message