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The origin of the bilingual advantage in false-belief reasoning

Paula Rubio-Fernández


Theory of Mind; false-belief tasks; true-belief inhibition; attentional processes; eye-tracking

In the Sally-Anne task – a standard measure of Theory of Mind development, Sally puts a marble in a box before going out to play. During her absence, Anne moves the marble to a basket, setting the scene for the false-belief question: ‘When Sally comes back, where will she look for her marble?’ [1]. Children under 4 err by predicting that Sally will look for her marble in the basket, rather than in the box where she left it. This paper investigates the origin of the bilingual advantage that has been found in false-belief reasoning relative to monolinguals, both in children [2, 3] and in adults [4].

Recent Theory of Mind studies with monolingual children show that 3-year olds’ focus of attention in standard false-belief tasks is critical for their performance. That is, when 3-year olds are allowed to focus on the protagonist throughout the narrative and the false-belief question doesn’t draw their attention to the target object (hence increasing the salience of the wrong response) they are able to pass standard false-belief tasks [5, 6]. In view of these recent results and contrary to the traditional view that young children fail standard false-belief tasks because they are unable to inhibit their own knowledge of the location of the object [see, e.g., 7], I have argued that this bias is task induced and that passing false-belief tasks only requires inhibiting one’s own knowledge if the task disrupts the participant’s focus of attention on the protagonist and draws their attention to the object [6, 8].

Following the traditional view, it had previously been assumed that the bilingual advantage in false-belief reasoning was due to the bilinguals’ increased Executive Control [see, e.g., 4]; that is, bilingual children and adults were better at inhibiting their own knowledge of the location of the object when responding to a false-belief question. However, under the competing assumption that false-belief reasoning doesn’t necessarily involve inhibition of one’s own knowledge, it remains to be explained what’s the origin of the bilingual advantage in false-belief reasoning. In this paper I will propose that this advantage is related to the bilinguals’ better use of attentional resources, in line with a recent proposal by Ellen Bialystok on the origin of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism [9, 10]. I will illustrate this view with the results of two eye-tracking studies on false-belief reasoning in adults, one with bilinguals and monolinguals [4] and another one with monolinguals [11].


[1] Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. Does the autistic child have a ‘‘theory of mind’’? Cognition, 21(1): 37–46, 1985.

[2] Goetz, P. J. The effects of bilingualism on theory of mind development. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6(1), 1-15, 2003.

[3] Kovács, Á. M. Early bilingualism enhances mechanisms of false‐belief reasoning. Developmental Science, 12(1), 48-54, 2009.

[4] Rubio-Fernández, P., & Glucksberg, S. Reasoning about other people’s beliefs: Bilinguals have an advantage. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 38(1), 211-217, 2012.

[5] Rubio-Fernández, P., & Geurts, B. How to pass the false-belief task before your fourth birthday. Psychological Science, 24(1), 27-33, 2013.

[6] Rubio-Fernández, P. (under review a). The role of the test question in 3-year olds’ failure in false-belief tasks.

[7] Carlson, S. M., & Moses, L. J. Individual differences in inhibitory control and children’s theory of mind. Child development, 72(4), 1032-1053, 2001.

[8] Rubio-Fernández, P. (under review b). Can we forget what we know in a false-belief task? An investigation of the true-belief default.

[9] Bialystok, E. Global–local and trail-making tasks by monolingual and bilingual children: Beyond inhibition. Developmental Psychology, 46(1), 93-105, 2010.

[10] Bialystok, E. Bilingualism and the development of Executive Function: The role of attention. Child Development Perspectives. 2015.

[11] Rubio-Fernández, P. Perspective tracking in progress: Do not disturb. Cognition, 129(2), 264-272, 2013.

More distributed neural networks for bilinguals than monolinguals during switching

Kalinka Timmer, John G. Grundy, & Ellen Bialystok (York University, Toronto, Canada)


bilingualism; task-switching; language switching; event-related potentials (ERPs); mixing cost; switching cost

During task-switching bilinguals outperform monolinguals due to their experience with continuous language-switching. This behavioral advantage is not always present in young adults due to ceiling performance. The present study investigated the underlying processing differences between monolinguals (English) and bilinguals (English-French) during possible similar performance. Further, the underlying mechanisms of task-switching are compared to language-switching with electrophysiological (EEG) measures. Both groups performed a domain general (task-) and language-switching task including blocks with one task (pure) and blocks with two tasks (mix), where the task could be repeated or switched. During task-switching monolinguals and bilinguals demonstrated same mixing (pure vs. mix) and switching (repeat vs. switch) costs. However, within the mixed blocks bilinguals were more accurate than monolinguals. The same behavioral mixing cost was reflected in a more distributed neural network for bilinguals. The same behavioral switching cost revealed earlier processing differences for bilinguals (275 ms) than monolinguals (325 ms). These processing differences could explain the enhanced performance during the mixed blocks. This was supported by the language-switching task that also revealed more distributed networks for bilinguals than monolinguals for the switch cost and additional late (350-400 ms) executive control for monolinguals compared to bilinguals for the mixing cost. Thus, the more distributed networks for bilinguals suggest the integration of verbal and non-verbal control networks during early visual processing (125-175 ms) and later executive processing (225-275 and 325-375 ms).

Dual Language Proficiency and Self-Regulation as Predictors of Academic Performance of Latino Children of Immigrants

Brian A. Collins, PhD (Hunter College, CUNY)


The present study investigates the roles of Spanish and English proficiencies and self-regulation, including executive functioning, on the academic performance of Latino children of immigrants in the early school years. Language competences and executive functioning such as the capacity to organize and process information, the flexibility to shift attention, skills related to problem solving, and inhibitory control are closely connected to completing academic tasks and functioning well in school contexts [1]. Within the academic environment, children who understand more complex language are better equipped to comply with the demands of school [2]. In contrast, children who have difficulty expressing ideas and understanding others are likely to face challenges controlling their attention and behavior when attempting to learn and focus in the classroom [3]. Given the evidence among the general population of the relationship between children’s executive functioning and language skills and implications for children’s academic success, it is critical to investigate the more complex case of dual language (bilingual) Latino children of immigrants. Dual language children from Spanish speaking low-income families have been evidenced to begin school with wide range language abilities in each language [4]. It is important to understand how high the variability of Spanish and English proficiencies of these children at school entry affects their executive functioning and school success.

This longitudinal study of second-generation immigrant children (n= 228) includes multi-dimensional data collected from direct child assessments, parent interviews, classroom observations, and teacher reports. Latino children of immigrants who were born in the US and were first language speakers of Spanish were recruited at kindergarten (mean age=6) from 15 public schools and followed 2 years later (mean age=8) at more than 25 schools, with 80% retention. Children were directly assessed using the following measures: 1) Dual language proficiency: Woodcock Language Proficiency Batteries-Revised (WLPB-R) 2) Working memory (including auditory/verbal): Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing 3) Executive functioning (including visuo-spatial): Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test, and 4) Academic performance including literacy skills (WLPB-R), and teacher reports of school functioning.

Hierarchical multiple regression models were used to analyze associations of dual language proficiencies and academic outcomes, and the role of executive functioning. Models controlled for demographics and kindergarten academic levels to examine residualized change. Spanish and English proficiency significantly predicted academic performance at 2nd grade (R2s=.13-39; p <.000) as well as executive functioning (R2s=.08-.21; p <.000). In separate models, executive functioning also predicted academic performance (R2s=.15-36; p <.000) yet when considering all predictors in one model, Spanish and English proficiency remained a significant predictor of academic performance while executive functioning did not, indicating a mediation effect of executive functioning through language proficiency. Methods, findings and conclusions will be presented.



[1] Zelazo, P.D., et al., The development of executive function in early childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 2003.

[2] Bierman, K.L., et al., Executive functions and school readiness intervention: Impact, moderation, and mediation in the Head Start REDI program. Development and Psychopathology,. 20(3): p. 821, 2008

[3] Blair, C., Behavioral inhibition and behavioral activation in young children: Relations with self‐regulation and adaptation to preschool in children attending Head Start. Developmental psychobiology,. 42(3): p. 301-311, 2003

[4]Collins, B.A., et al., Dual language profiles of Latino children of immigrants: Stability and change over the early school years. Applied Psycholinguistics,. 35(03): p. 581-620, 2014

Mixed Language Use and Cognitive Flexibility in Young Bilinguals

Sibylla Leon Guerrero, Laura Mesite, Sarah Surrain & Gigi Luk (Harvard Graduate School of Education)


Cognitive flexibility; Executive function; Spanish-English bilinguals; Home language use; Trails task

In recent decades, US public school classrooms have become increasingly diverse, both linguistically and culturally [1]. While English is the primary medium of instruction in U.S. schools, many children have diverse language experience outside of school. Traditional group comparison may not capture the heterogeneity in bilingual groups [2]. We examined variability in home language usage and executive functions (EF) in children. We expected (1) no group difference in EF between monolinguals and broadly defined bilinguals; (2) differential outcomes in EF between bilingual subgroups with different proportions of bilingual home language use.

Eighty-five (85) monolingual and bilingual fourth-grade children (female=45) between the ages of 10-13 yrs. (m=11.01) attending public elementary schools participated in both a home language survey and an individual task battery as part of a larger study of reading and EF. Parents completed a detailed questionnaire about children’s daily language use and home language environment. Non-English language use at home was coded as a polynomial treatment factor using quartiles of non-English language use at home (i.e. 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% of other language use). Children completed an experimental EF task, Trail-making. Cost of switching, a measure of cognitive flexibility, was computed by subtracting accuracy on the non-switching (number only) trials from switching (letter-number) trials of this task.

Our sample, particularly the bilinguals, had heterogeneous demographic backgrounds: groups with differences in non-English language use also displayed significant differences in maternal education (F(9,75)=2.62, p= 0.011). We therefore conducted analyses with both non-matching and matching multinomial propensity scores to reduce covariate effects. First, when monolinguals and bilinguals were compared as dichotomous groups without distinguishing proportions of non-English language usage at home, no significant differences between groups emerged, both before (b=-0.10, s.e.=0.07, t=-1.41, p=0.164) and after binomial covariate matching (b=-0.05, s.e.=0.07, 95%C.I.:[ -0.1990, 0.0984]). Then, we considered the bilinguals divided into five subgroups based on proportion of non-English language use at home. A polynomial regression model revealed that individuals who spoke a more balanced mixture of languages at home (e.g. 50% English and 50% another language) incurred lower switching costs in accuracy, while children who spoke more of only one language at home (e.g. 100% English or 100% another language) displayed greater switching costs (R2= 0.13, F=2.91, p=.02). After covariate rebalancing, a propensity score-weighted model continued to find a significant effect of home language group with the balanced home language group (50% English) showing the lowest cost of switching (b=-0.21, s.e.=0.06, t =-3.52, p<0.001).

Results suggest a multidimensional, rather than categorical, characterization of bilingual language use can aid in understanding the allocation of cognitive resources during childhood. Proportion of language use, a dimension of bilingual experience, may interact with EF development, creating distinct cognitive profiles that affect classroom learning.



[1] United States Census Bureau / American FactFinder. America’s children: key national indicators of well-being, 2013. U.S. Census Bureau, 2013. http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren13/famsoc5.asp

[2] Luk, G. & Bialystok, E. Bilingualism is not a categorical variable: Interaction between language proficiency and usage. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25(5), 605–621, 2013.

Metalinguistic Abilities and EF in Young Foreign Language Learners. Preschoolers in FL immersion may benefit more strongly from repeated testing.

Kathrin Oberhofer (University of Innsbruck)


metalinguistic ability; executive function; partial bilingualism; emerging bilingualism; child L2 learning; early immersion

An ever-growing body of research has shown that individuals who know more than one language use, process, store, and understand language(s) differently from those who know only one. For instance, compared to their monolingual peers, bi/multilingual children often demonstrate a more abstract and advanced understanding of what language is and how it works in areas such as word-meaning connection or morphology. They also show more domain-general cognitive benefits, performing better on certain tasks of executive function (EF) and cognitive control, even when these are non-linguistic in nature (for an overview, see e.g. Bialystok, 2009; Bialystok, Craik, Green, & Gollan, 2009). However, most such studies have focused on children who are fairly proficient rather than partial/emerging bilinguals, and only very few studies have looked at the development of these abilities over time.

The present study included some 100 children from German-speaking families, about half of whom were in regular German-language kindergartens (ML or monolinguals), and half of whom attended kindergartens with some form of intensive English immersion or bilingual program (YLL or young language learners) and can therefore be considered emerging bilinguals. The majority entered the project around age 4-5 and were tested three times over a period of two years, but some were tested only once at age 6, in the children’s final months of pre-school.

Tests of EF and metalinguistic abilities found no significant performance differences between the once-tested ML and YLL, but in the longitudinal cohort, the YLL were showing some performance advantages over the ML by their third and final test time. A comparison of test results between the ‘first-timers’/‘novices’ and the ‘third-timers’/‘repeaters’ at age 6 yielded interesting results. That children doing a task for the third time should perform better than a child of the same age doing it for the first time will come as no surprise. However, while there were no significant differences between ‘novices’ and ‘repeaters’ among the monolinguals at age 6, among the young language learners, the ‘repeaters’ scored significantly higher than the YLL ‘novices’ on a test of nonverbal executive function, a metalinguistic task that depended highly on control of attention and inhibition, and a test of morphological awareness. In other words the young language learners may have benefitted more from repeated testing (practice effect) than the monolinguals.



[1] Bialystok, E. Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12(1):3-11, 2009.

[2] Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Green, D. W., & Gollan, T. H. Bilingual Minds. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10(3):89-129, 2009.

Does the ‘bilingual advantage’ appear in immersion education after sufficient exposure?

Marie-Eve Joret (Vrije Universiteit Brussel/ Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek), Filip Germeys (KU Leuven), & Piet Van de Craen (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)


Bilingualism- executive functions- immersion education- Simon Task

Some studies have shown that ‘full’ bilingualism might enhance the executive functions in children, young adults and elderly people. The present study aimed at investigating whether similar effects could be found in children learning their second language at school in immersion education programs. Moreover, since one study suggested that the duration of immersion training might be an important element in the emergence of this ‘bilingual advantage’ in immersion learners, children with sufficient immersion training were tested in this present study.

44 children involved in immersion education for 4 to 5 years were compared to 48 children in traditional schools. All children were between 9 and 11 years old. To assess executive functions, the Simon Task was used, a neuropsychological measure assessing executive functions with reaction times and accuracy on congruent and incongruent trials. To control for background measures, all children underwent the Raven’s Coloured Progressive Matrices, to measure non-verbal intelligence and the Echelle de Vocabulaire en Images Peabody (EVIP), assessing verbal intelligence. In addition, a questionnaire was given to the parents to control for other confounding variables, such as socio-economic status (SES), home language, developmental disorders, etc.


There were no significant differences between groups concerning non-verbal intelligence and verbal intelligence. Furthermore, the immersion learners showed overall faster reaction times on both congruent and incongruent trials compared to the traditional learners, but only after 5 years of training, not before.


These results suggest that the advantage found in ‘full’ bilinguals might also appear in children involved in immersion education, but only after a sufficient exposure to the second language. However, future longitudinal or semi-experimental studies will need to confirm this.



[1] Bialystok, E., Martin, M. M., & Viswanathan, M. Bilingualism across the lifespan: The rise and fall of inhibitory control. International Journal of Bilingualism, 9, 103–119, 2005.

[2] Bialystok, E., & Barac, R. (2012). Emerging bilingualism: dissociating advantages for metalinguistic awareness and executive control. Cognition, 122, 67–73, 2012.

Investigating a working memory advantage in bilingual Arabic-English children

Areej Balilah (Western University, Speech and Language Science) & Lisa Archibald (Western University, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders)


Bilingual children; Working memory; Verbal and visuospatial short-term

Bilingual children who are living in a multilingual environment need to switch between two languages on a regular basis in their everyday lives. During speech production, bilingual speakers activate both language systems equally in their mind. To activate the relevant language and suppress the non-target language, bilinguals use a mechanism of cognitive control. The constant use of cognitive control in bilingual children may aid their performance on tasks that rely on this particular mechanism. Indeed, bilingual speakers have been found to outperform their monolingual peers on several tasks of executive control.

Working memory is an important resource that has been linked to cognitive control. The working memory system supports the short-term storage of verbal and visuospatial material, and updates and manipulates information held in the short-term stores. The ability to hold relevant information in mind may be considered an important component of cognitive control. In related work, intensive working memory training has been found to result in improved working memory functioning. The idea that bilingual children exercise cognitive control (along with working memory updating) to a greater extent than their monolingual peers gives rise to an expectation of a cognitive control (and possibly working memory) advantage for bilingual groups.

In order to examine this hypothesis, 54 bilingual children ages 6 to 9 years whose L1 was Arabic and who had been learning English as the language of instruction (L2-English) in Canada and 376 TD Arabic-speaking children from Saudi Arabia of similar age completed measures of verbal and visuospatial short-term and working memory in their dominant language. Results revealed no significant differences between bilingual and monolingual children on composite domain-specific short-term and domain-general working memory measures. As such, the study provides no evidence for a bilingual advantage related to the working memory component of cognitive control. One possible explanation may be related to the context in which our bilingual speakers were immersed. That is, the demands for English and Arabic in the Canadian environment were often separated, for example, as the home or school language. As a result, the demands for cognitive control in activating the relevant language might have been reduced in these speakers. Alternatively, it may be that the bilingual benefit of constantly exercising cognitive control impacts processing resources other than working memory updating and not measured in our study.



[1] Alloway. Automated working memory assessment. London: Pearson Assessment, 2007.

[2] Pascale Engel de Abreu. Working memory in multilingual children: Is there a bilingual effect?. Memory, 19(5): 529-537, 2011.

Executive Functioning in Bilingual Children with ASD: Are there advantages of being bilingual?

Ana Maria Gonzalez-Barrero & Aparna Nadig (School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University; Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music)


Bilingualism; Autism Spectrum Disorders; Executive Functioning; Set-shifting skills; English-French-Spanish

While many studies have examined the impact of bilingualism on Executive Functions (EF) in typically-developing children, few have investigated a neurodevelopmental disorder with known EF impairments. If a bilingual advantage exists (Bialystok & Martin, 2004; Bialystok & Viswanathan, 2009), it might mitigate executive dysfunction in such a case. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) demonstrate EF impairments, specifically, they tend to exhibit perseverative responses on set-shifting tasks (e.g., Ozonoff et al., 2004). Conversely, they are not impaired in short-term memory (e.g., Boucher et al., 2012; Zinke et al., 2010). We examine the impact of bilingualism on EF in ASD with a special interest in set-shifting abilities. We hypothesized that bilingual children with ASD would be impaired in set-shifting relative to bilingual typically-developing (TYP) children, but would be less impaired than monolinguals with ASD (biTYP> biASD> monoASD). As a control we hypothesized that short-term memory would not differ between groups.

Bilingual TYP, bilingual ASD, and monolingual ASD groups were matched pairwise on nonverbal IQ and age. The target sample includes 20 biTYP, 15 biASD, and 15 monoASD 5- to 9-year-olds. Participants include French, Spanish or English speakers (or speakers of any 2 of these languages). We examined EF via parental report on the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF; Gioia et al., 1996). To evaluate set-shifting we used a computerized version of the Dimensional Change Card Sort task (DCCS; Zelazo, 2006). Short-term memory was assessed by the number repetition subtest of the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-4; Semel et al., 2003).

Preliminary data is available from 7 biTYP, 7 biASD, and 7 monoASD children. Findings generally pattern in line with our predictions. There was a significant difference between groups for the General Executive Composite Score of the BRIEF (lower scores = higher functioning: biTYP M = 46; biASD M = 58; monoASD M = 65; p = .008). Post-hoc tests revealed that the Bilingual TYP and Monolingual ASD groups were significantly different (p = .007), whereas the Monolingual and Bilingual ASD groups (p = .56) and Bilingual TYP and Bilingual ASD groups (p = .12) were not. The same pattern was found for the shifting sub-scale.

On the DCCS task a “pass” is correctly answering 5 of 6 post-switch trials. The percentage of children passing the post-switch phase was: biTYP= 100%; biASD= 86%; monoASD = 57%. This difference did not reach significance (p= .08), nor did a measure of switch cost on response time. Finally, short-term memory was not significantly different across groups.

Data collection is ongoing and will allow us to investigate in a larger sample if executive function difficulties, particularly in set-shifting ability, experienced by monolinguals with ASD are significantly reduced in bilinguals with ASD.



[1] Bialystok, E., & Martin, M. M. Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: Evidence from the dimensional change card sort task. Developmental Science, 7:325-339, 2004.

[2] Bialystok, E., & Viswanathan, M. Components of executive control with advantages for bilingual children in two cultures. Cognition, 112:494-500, 2009.

[3] Boucher, J., Mayes, A., & Bigham, S. (2012). Memory in autistic spectrum disorder. Psychological Bulletin, 138:458-496, 2012.

[4] Ozonoff, S., Cook, I., Coon, H., Dawson, G., Joseph, R. M., Klin, A., … & Wrathall, D. (2004). Performance on Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery subtests sensitive to frontal lobe function in people with autistic disorder: evidence from the Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism network. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34:139-150, 2004.

[5] Zelazo, P. D. The Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS): A method of assessing executive function in children. Nature Protocols, 1:297-301, 2006.

[6] Zinke, K., Fries, E., Altgassen, M., Kirschbaum, C., Dettenborn, L., & Kliegel, M. Visuospatial short-term memory explains deficits in tower task planning in high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorder. Child Neuropsychology, 16:229-241, 2010.

Identifying Specific Language Impairment in Bilingual Children: Are Executive Function Tasks Discriminating?

Racha Zebib, Laetitia de Almeida, Sandrine Ferré, Eléonore Morin, Philippe Prévost, Christophe dos Santos & Laurie Tuller (INSERM U930 ‘Imagerie et cerveau’ – Université François-Rabelais de Tours)


Bilingualism; Specific Language Impairment; Executive Function; Assessment.

The number of schoolchildren in France growing up with French and another language is constantly increasing; yet identifying Specific Language Impairment (SLI) in these children remains very difficult. In fact, French speech and language pathologists are generally not capable of assessing the first language of these children and disentangling language deficits due to SLI from difficulties related to typical L2 acquisition is often very complicated. Studies comparing children with SLI and L2 children have revealed important similarities in linguistic performance ([6] [13], a.o.). These similarities often lead to misdiagnosis. One possible direction for identifying SLI in bilingual children is assessing their nonlinguistic ability. Previous studies suggest in fact that children with SLI show deficits in some Executive Functions (EF) such as attention, inhibition, shifting and working memory (WM) ([10] [7] [9], see [11] for a review). In the present study, we compare Bilingual children with SLI (Bi-SLI) and Bilingual Typically Developing children (Bi-TD) on WM (visuo-spatial short term memory, complex working memory and verbal short term memory), selective attention, inhibition and shifting tasks. Language and executive function tasks were administered to Turkish-French and Portuguese-French children aged 5;6 to 8;11 years. Results from 20 Bi-TD children and 10 BI-SLI children, L1 Turkish or Portuguese and L2 French, (data from 22 other children are currently being processed) reveal lower performance in Bi-SLI children on WM and in particular on verbal short-term memory which was significantly correlated to language measures. However, none of the nonverbal tasks distinguished the groups, although these same tasks were shown to be discriminating in a previous study [8]. No difference was found between the Turkish-French and the Portuguese-French children on any EF tasks.

These results confirm those obtained in previous studies showing verbal short-term memory deficits in children with SLI ([1] [2]; a.o.). They fail however to support the hypothesis of nonverbal WM and EF deficits in Bi-SLI children. This latter result does not contradict however the hypothesis of subtle nonverbal deficits in Monolingual SLI children (see [11]) as it may be explained by the hypothesis of enhanced WM and EF in bilinguals ([3] [4] [5] [8] [12], a.o.). Bilingualism may have boosted the nonverbal abilities of children with SLI, reducing the gap between their performance and performance of Bi-TD children.



[1] Archibald, L.M.D & Gathercole, S.E. (2006). Immediate visuo-spatial memory in specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 49, pp. 265-277.

[2] Archibald, L.M.D & Gathercole, S.E. (2007). The complexities of complexe span: Specifying working memory deficits in SLI. Journal of Memory and Language, 57, 177-194.

[3] Bialystok, E. (1999). Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind. Child Development, 70, 636–644.

[4] Bialystok E. & Viswanathan M. (2009). Components of executive control with advantages for bilingual children in two cultures. Cognition, 112 (3), 494-500.

[5] Calvo, A., & Bialystok, E. (2014). Independent effects of bilingualism and socioeconomic status on language ability and executive functioning. Cognition, 130, 278-288. PMC3921957

[6] Chilla, S. (2008). Erstsprache, Zweitsprache, Spezifische Sprachentwicklungsstörung? Eine Untersuchung des Erwerbs der deutschen Hauptsatzstruktur durch sukzessiv-bilinguale Kinder mit türkischer Erstsprache. Hamburg: Dr. Kovač.

[7] Finneran, D. A., Francis, A. L., & Leonard, L. B. (2009). Sustained attention in children with Specific Language Impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 52, 915–929.

[8] Iluz-Cohen, P. & Armon-Lotem, S. (2013). Language proficiency and executive control in bilingual children. Bilingualism : Language and Cognition, pp. 1-16.

[9] Im-Bolter, N., Johnson, J., & Pascual-Leone, J. (2006). Processing limitations in children with Specific Language Impairment: The role of executive function. Child Development, 6, 1822–1841.

[10] Kohnert, K., & Windsor, J. (2004). The search for common ground, part II: Nonlinguistic performance by linguistically diverse learners. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 47, 891–903.

[11] Kohnert, K., Windsor, J., & Ebert, K. D. (2009). Primary or “specific” language impairment and children learning a second language. Brain and Language, 109, 110–111.

[12] Kovács, A.M. & Mehler, J. (2009). Flexible learning of multiple speech structures in bilingual infants. Science, 325, 611–612.

[13] Paradis, J. (2010). The interface between bilingual development and specific language impairment. Applied Psycholinguistics, 31: 227-252.

The role of inhibitory control in cross-language priming

Anna Wolleb (The Arctic University of Norway) & Marit Westergaard (The Arctic University of Norway)


Inhibitory control; Cross-language priming; English; Norwegian; Bilingual children; Dative alternation

The present paper investigates the relationship between cross-language structural priming and inhibitory control in bilingual children. Previous research has employed structural priming to demonstrate that abstract syntactic representations can be shared between two languages, provided that they are sufficiently similar (see Loebell & Bock 2003; Hartsuiker, Pickering & Veltkamp 2004). The dative constructions in English and Norwegian meet this criterion, as shown in (1) and (2)

(1)                  The dog shows the queen   the book

Hunden viser   dronningen boka

(2)                   The dog shows the book to the queen

Hunden viser   boka         til dronningen

The presence of structural priming in bilingual settings indicates that the shared abstract syntactic representations stay active for a certain amount of time after having being experienced in one language, effectively influencing subsequent production and comprehension in the other.

Bilingual individuals need a mechanism to control attention to the language they are using while avoiding interference from the other one. This mechanism is commonly referred to as inhibitory control, and it is thought to be involved in both linguistic and other cognitive processes. A yet unexplored issue is how inhibitory control works on the shared representations during structural priming and specifically, whether it somehow weakens their active state.

In this paper, I tested Norwegian-English bilingual children on dative alternation in within-language and between-language contexts and compared the strength of the effect. In addition, the same speakers were given a classical executive function task, the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS), in order to establish whether there was a correlation between performance on the executive function and priming tasks. I predicted that those children who score better at the DCCS, i.e. those with a higher inhibitory control, should also display a weaker priming effect. This hypothesis makes the assumption that the kind of inhibition associated with cognitive tasks is the same as that involved in the linguistic processes underlying the access to the shared representations of a bilingual grammar.

Results showed that within-language priming is significantly stronger than between-language priming, suggesting that inhibition is indeed at work for the duration of the task. However, there was no correlation between priming and the DCCS score. I therefore suggest that the kind of inhibition involved in priming and in cognitive tasks are not identical. Specifically, I propose that there might exist a ‘strictly linguistic’ inhibitory control that is not necessarily related to broader cognitive abilities.



[1] Hartsuiker, R., J, Pickering, M. J., Veltkamp, E. Is syntax separate or shared between languages? Cross-linguistic syntactic priming in Spanish-English bilinguals. Psychological Science, 6(15):409-414, 2004.

[2] Loebell, H. & Bock, K. Structural priming across languages. Linguistics, 41(5):791-824, 2003.