NYU: A team of researchers has uncovered the distinct computations that occur when we switch between different languages, a finding that provides new insights into the nature of bilingualism.
“A remarkable feature of multilingual individuals is their ability to quickly and accurately switch back and forth between their different languages,” explains Esti Blanco-Elorrieta, a doctoral student in New York University’s Department of Psychology and NYU Abu Dhabi Institute as well as the lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Our findings help pinpoint what occurs in the brain in this process—specifically, what neural activity is exclusively associated with disengaging from one language and then engaging with a new one.”
“Specifically, this research unveils for the first time that while disengaging from one language requires some cognitive effort, activating a new language comes relatively cost-free from a neurobiological standpoint,” notes senior author Liina Pylkkanen, a professor in Liina Pylkkanen, a professor in New York University’s Department of Linguistics and Department of Psychology.
Previous research has linked language switching with increased activity in areas associated with cognitive control (i.e., the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices). However, it was unknown whether it is disengaging from the previous language or engaging in a new language that drives this activity. Read more.