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.