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Auteur: Kyriakos ANTONIOU

The impact of bilingualism on children's pragmatic and cognitive development

Abstract/Résumé: Experimental evidence suggests that bilingualism leads to an advantage in children's executive control (EC), Theory of Mind (TOM) and pragmatic abilities (Bialystok 2009;Goetz 2003;Siegal et al. 2009). Siegal et al. (2009) reported that bilingual children were better in detecting violations of Gricean maxims. However, the sources of this advantage were not related to any other cognitive domain while it is not clear if the bilingual advantage in their task was indeed related to pragmatics. Finally, detection of pragmatic violations is a necessary but not sufficient condition for drawing the kind of pragmatic inferences (implicatures) that interlocutors rely on in communication. In this study we aimed to investigate (1)whether multlingualism confers an advantage in children's understanding of implicatures and (2)whether this advantage is potentially mediated by some aspect of EC or TOM. A group of 30 multilingual children (bilectals in Cypriot-Greek (CG) and Standard Modern Greek (SMG), also speaking one or more additional languages; 6-12 years old) and a group of 36 age-matched bilectals (in CG and SMG) were administered: (1)a test on the ability to comprehend scalar, relevance, manner implicatures, metaphor and irony. (2)A battery of EC tasks, including two measures of inhibition, one measure of cognitive flexibility and two measures of working memory. (3)An expressive vocabulary test. (4)An IQ test and (5)a TOM task. ANOVAs revealed a significant effect of group only for children’s performance in the Simon task: multilingual children had a smaller Simon effect (F(1, 61)=4.239, p<.05) which indicates better inhibitory control abilities. Linear regressions were also run with the five EC measures as well as TOM, gender, age, socioeconomic status, vocabulary and IQ as predictor variables and types of implicature as dependent measures. These revealed only a significant effect of age on overall performance in the conversational test (t(59)=2.400, p<.05) indicating better performance for older children. Overall, while we found a multilingual advantage in inhibition, there was no robust evidence of an advantage in pragmatic language when using a task that (a) unambiguously tests for pragmatic ability, and (b) studies implicature comprehension rather than mere detection of a violation. Moreover, no link emerged between EC or TOM and pragmatic competence. Bialystok, E. (2009). Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12, 3-11;Goetz, P. J. (2003). The effects of bilingualism on theory of mind development. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6(1), 1–15;Siegal M, Iozzi L, Surian L (2009) Bilingualism and conversational understanding in young children. Cognition 110: 115–122.