Research on multilingualism without the native monolingual norm

Martedì, 26 Marzo, 2024 - da 12:00 a 13:30

Research on multilingualism without the native monolingual norm
(University of Edinburgh)
Aula 356, San Niccolò

Linguistics research has traditionally been shaped by the concept of native monolingual speaker. Research on bilingualism and language learning has also defined attainment levels (e.g. “near-native speakers”) and differences (‘advantages’ or ‘disadvantages’) with respect to native monolingual norms.  However, interdisciplinary experimental research on language learning and language change across the lifespan is deconstructing the notion of the native monolingual speaker as a default point of reference: it has shown not only that a speaker’s first language (L1) changes in selective and reversible ways upon exposure to a second language (L2) but also – and crucially – that the aspects of L1 grammar affected by change are the same that remain variable even in highly proficient L2 speakers of the same language (Sorace 2011, 2016). This selective convergence between L1 change and L2 acquisition suggests the existence of an L1-L2 ecology which may be functional to active bilingualism. While we need much more research in this area, four provisional generalisations are possible at this stage: first, we should treat L1 lexical and grammatical changes as a natural and predictable consequence of language contact, in the bilingual brain and then in multilingual communities; second, understanding the big picture requires serious consideration of individual differences and variation in the bilingual experience; third, we need to discontinue the use of ‘native monolingual speakers’ as a point of reference; fourth, we need more interdisciplinary research on different aspects of bilingualism that combines the insights of linguistic, cognitive and social models.

Antonella Sorace is Professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and Honorary Professor at University College London. She is internationally known for her interdisciplinary research on bilingualism across the lifespan and for her contribution to language typology, especially for her work on constrained variation at the syntax-pragmatics interface and gradience in natural language. She is also committed to building bridges between research and people in different sectors of society. She is the founding director of the public engagement centre Bilingualism Matters, which currently has 34 branches in four continents.