The influence of bilingualism on cognitive aging and dementia: competence, communication and context.

Dr. Thomas H Bak, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

The question whether bilingualism can influence cognitive functions in later life and even delay

the onset of dementia has generated recently considerable controversy. I will argue that different

disciplines are likely to approach this question from different perspectives. The main interest of

much of the linguistic and psycholinguistic research on bilingualism has been on language

knowledge (competence) and on what is often perceived as the “classical” case of bilingualism:

early, simultaneous acquisition of two or more languages and a perfect command of them. In

contrast, I focus on non-balanced and non-perfect bilingualism, acquired in late childhood and

adulthood and emphasise the importance of language use (communication), including its social

context. I will propose that such an approach is likely to bring research on bilingualism and

cognitive aging closer to the big questions of cognitive reserve.