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Current Affairs

Bilingual brain capability

Date: 14 February 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

More than half of the world’s population is bilingual —an extraordinary and complex ability that few have properly understood. How are two languages able to coexist in the same brain is a yet to be completely understood.

 

Background

 Neuropsychologist Albert Costa addresses these questions by focusing on the cognitive and neural underpinnings of language processing.

 

Details

  • Costa uses neuro-linguistic research to investigate the impact of bilingualism on daily life, from infancy to old age. His studies show that newborn children, who are only hours old, are able to detect a change of language. At four to six months, toddlers can distinguish between languages by looking at the speaker’s mouth.

  • Knowing two languages has many upsides like bilingual children have a lower egocentric bias, the tendency to rely too heavily on one’s own perspective. They have better attentional control, and also a greater cognitive reserve.

  • Trials have reported the onset of dementia in bilingual children up to four years later than others. Being bilingual also has flip sides, however. For instance, such individuals have a smaller vocabulary in their two languages as compared to monolinguals.

  • Bilingualism rewires the brain and improves the executive system, boosting people’s “cognitive reserve”. It means that as parts of the brain succumb to damage, bilinguals can compensate more easily.

Evolution of language

  • Language evolution can be compared to biological evolution, but whereas genetic change is driven by environmental pressures, languages change and develop through social pressures.

  • Then, in order to communicate with other groups, for trade, travel and so on – it would have been necessary for some members of a family or band to speak other tongues.