March 2014

£9k British Academy award to Dr Yanjing Wu to study bilingualism

It is established that speaking two languages on a daily basis enhances cognitive abilities – the ‘bilingual advantage phenomenon’ (BAP)’ – presumably because of enhanced cognitive flexibility entailed by switching between two distinct language systems. We will recruit three groups of 20 Mandarin-speaking Chinese participants: (1) a monolingual group (2) a bilingual Mandarin-English group, and (3) a bi-dialect Mandarin-Min group. The Southern-Min and Mandarin Chinese dialects have identical orthography and grammar but radically different phonology. We will record event-related brain potentials while participants perform the Attention Networks Test. We expect to observe superior executive function for Group 2 than Group 1, but Group 3 are the key innovation. A full BAP for group 3 would indicate that the experience of managing two phonological systems is sufficient to yield cognitive advantage, whereas a negligible advantage would demonstrate the need for semantic/grammatical switching. The results will enhance understanding of the BAP, and lead to significant practical applications.