Individual differences in cognitive and language control among late, aging Dutch-English bilinguals

Keijzer, M., Oct-2015.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic

This paper will investigate the interaction of the decrease in proficiency in the native language of migrants and age-related cognitive changes. It is well documented that cognitive resources tend to decline with age: processing speed, working memory, attention span and inhibition mechanisms are all reported to suffer due to changes in the neural substrate (Grossman & Wingfield, 2006). It is equally well known that such cognitive decline also impacts language. Previous work has shown that elderly language users not only experience word finding and selecting difficulties, but that they also find it more challenging to comprehend speeded speech as well as to comprehend and produce complex word order (Burke & Shafto, 2008). Intriguing in this respect is research on cognitive and language control in bilinguals which suggests a slowing-down of age-related cognitive decline and even dementia for early bilinguals (Bialystok et al., 2004, 2008). However, the findings from such studies are often mixed, in particular when applied to late bilinguals, and little is known about the impact of language maintenance vs. attrition among immigrant populations in this respect. In this study, an attempt is made to shed more light on this issue by examining a group of older (71+) late Dutch-English bilinguals, all long-term émigrés in Australia. Findings from a range of tasks and background measures (language use and history questionnaire, vocabulary, and grammar measures, among others) as well as cognitive measures (consisting of several working memory tasks, inhibition tasks, processing speed measurements, and set shifting tests) will be compared against the performance of youngest old peers (60-70) and middle-aged (40-50) controls. In addition, data was collected from both a matched Dutch and English monolingual group. The results show that, rather than the bilinguals as a group outperforming the monolinguals, individual differences very much dominate the findings. A three-way distinction emerges in which a subset of the older bilinguals performs on a par with the monolinguals, while two other subsets produced markedly lower and markedly higher scores than the monolinguals, respectively. Furthermore, although the oldest group often did produce poorer scores than their younger peers, this was not uniformly the case and the best performing oldest subjects often outperformed their younger peers on language and cognitive tasks alike.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2015
EventML4U workshop - Multilingualism across the Lifespan - Ghent University, Gent, Belgium
Duration: 25-Sep-201526-Sep-2015


WorkshopML4U workshop - Multilingualism across the Lifespan


ML4U workshop - Multilingualism across the Lifespan


Gent, Belgium

Event: Workshop

View graph of relations

ID: 28067994