That’s what science has wondered about for decades, offering complicated theories on how the brain processes more than one language and sometimes theorizing that bilingualism degrades cognitive performance.
But University of Kansas psycholinguist Mike Vitevitch thinks that complicated explanations of how the brain processes two or more languages overlook a straightforward and simple explanation.
“The inherent characteristics of the words — how they sound — provide enough information to distinguish which language a word belongs to,” he said. “You don't need to do anything else.”
And in an analysis of English and Spanish, published in the April 7 online edition of Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Vitevitch found few words that sounded similar in the two languages.
Most theories of how bilingual speakers find a word in memory assume that each word is “labeled” with information about which language it belongs to, Vitevitch said.
But he disagrees. “Given how different the words in one language sound to the words in the other language, it seems like a lot of extra and unnecessary mental work to add a label to each word to identify it as being from one language or the other. “
Here's an analogy. Imagine you have a bunch of apples and oranges in your fridge. The apples represent one language you know, the oranges represent another language you know and the fridge is that part of memory known as the lexicon, which contains your knowledge about language. To find an apple you just look for the round red thing in the fridge and to find an orange you just look for the round orange thing in the fridge. Once in a while you might grab an unripe, greenish orange mistaking it for a granny smith apple. Such instances of language "mixing" do happen on occasion, but they are pretty rare and are easily corrected, said Vitevitch.
“This process of looking for a specific piece of fruit is pretty efficient as it is —labeling each apple as an apple and each orange as an orange with a magic marker seems redundant and unnecessary.”
Given how words in one language tend to sound different from words in another language, parents who speak different languages should not worry that their children will be confused or somehow harmed by learning two languages, said Vitevitch.
“Most people in most countries in the world speak more than one language,” said Vitevitch. “If the U.S. wants to successfully compete in a global economy we need people who can communicate with potential investors and consumers in more than one language.”
Vitevitch is an associate professor of psychology at KU and an associate scientist with KU’s Life Span Institute.
The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.
firstname.lastname@example.org | (785) 864-3256 | 1314 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence, KS 66045
Karen Henry | EurekAlert!
Physics of bubbles could explain language patterns
25.07.2017 | University of Portsmouth
Obstructing the ‘inner eye’
07.07.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena
Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.
Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...
Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.
For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...
26.07.2017 | Event News
21.07.2017 | Event News
19.07.2017 | Event News
27.07.2017 | Life Sciences
27.07.2017 | Life Sciences
27.07.2017 | Health and Medicine