The relationship between bilingualism and cognitive development

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Introduction:

From last couple of decades researchers have been interested in the relationship between bilingualism and cognitive development. Contradictory results have been obtained form the number of studies in which bilingual children's cognitive ability has been measured, both by intelligent test and other tests. If we look back before the year 1960, researchers were mostly focused with the effects of bilingualism on verbal and nonverbal intelligence (Darcy, 1963, P. 259-282). As a result of such consequential findings bilingualism was generally portrayed as a handicap (Saer, 1923, P. 25-38). Later on, in 1962 Peal and Lambert challenged this conclusion. Since then majority of studies have reported a bilingual advantage on measures from various cognitive areas. These areas include concept formation (Liedke & Nelson, 1968, P. 225-232); social sensitivity (Genesse, Tucker, & Lambert, 1975, P. 1010-1014); problem solving (Bain, 1975, P. 5-19); metalinguistic awareness (Cummins, 1978, P. 131-149 ); perceptual disembedding (Duncan & De Avila, 1979, P. 15-50); understanding complex instructions (Powers & Lopez, 1985, P.1050 ); memory (Whitaker, Rueda, & Prieto, 1985, P. 302-307); science concepts (Eckstein, 1986, P. 82-98); creativity (Kessler & Quinn, 1987, P. 173- 186); classifying objects (Fang, 1987, P. , 384-392); and role taking (Sperling, 1990). Overall bilingual superiority has been suggested by several hypothesis as well as aspect of bilingual functioning from each of the above highlights (Hakuta, Ferdman, & Diaz, 1987, P. 284-319; Peal & Lambert, 1962, P. 1-23). In light of above discussion we can have look at Cummins (1976, P. 1-43) example who suggests that bilinguals are cognitively more highly developed because from an early age they have two symbols for many objects. By this way without depending on linguistic symbols they may conceptualize environmental features in terms of their common belongings. For that reason, they may be more flexible, and adept at concept formation and abstract thinking. To discover the 'truth' of the notion "bilingual has detrimental effect on intelligence" we have to shift our focus on 'threshold theory' and examine the fact in light of previous researchers. For this reason small scale empirical study has been carried out which is a replica work of the previous researchers on this issue.

Literature review:

Threshold theory has provided a ground for understanding the differences between the previous and the more recent studies (Cummins, 1976, P. 1-43). This theory illustrates that bilinguals need to achieve high levels of linguistic proficiency in both of their languages before bilingualism can promote cognitive development. In addition to that, if children attain a high level of proficiency in only one language and they attain a lower facility with the other language, then their bilingualism will have neither a positive nor a negative effect on their cognitive development. The theory also explains that bilingualism will have a negative effect on cognitive development if children fail to attain a high level of proficiency in both of their languages. According to Cummins, (1976) in most of the earlier studies the extent of bilingualism was not assessed. As a result, there is a possibility that some subjects may have been capable in neither of their languages and this may explain the overall findings.

Figure: The threshold hypothesis (Skutnabb-Kangas, 1981, P.223).

Few of the studies have found negative effects associated with bilingualism since the Peal and Lambert (1962) study. These results may also be noted as being consistent with threshold theory. As an example, in one of the studies, bilinguals were found to perform notably inferior in comparison to monolinguals on a concept formation and a science test (Brown, Fournier, & Moyer, 1977, P. 329-334). Nevertheless, it needs to be mentioned that the bilinguals' level of ability in both of their languages was not examined, and it may be the case that the bilinguals were proficient in neither of their languages.

Majority of the studies cannot be construed as providing direct evidence either for or against the threshold theory as details relating to the bilinguals' linguistic proficiency in their two languages are not given though earlier studies and some more recent studies have been supporting threshold theory. Researchers have selected balanced bilinguals in a number of the recent studies. As a result they have achieved a comparable level of proficiency in each of their two languages. However, researchers have not always ensured that the bilinguals have attained a high level of proficiency in both of their languages. Besides, in several recent studies like as in many of the earlier studies, the degree of bilingualism has not been considered. In light of these problems further work which addresses threshold theory directly is necessary.

The small scale empirical study over here is particularly intended to test three hypotheses derived from threshold theory which compares the bilingual and monolingual performance on several cognitive measures. Metalinguistic awareness and creativity measures, measures of nonverbal abilities, and a measure of reading achievement are included in this study. According to the threshold theory it has been forecasted that -

a) Bilinguals who had achieved a high level of aptitude in both of the languages would perform significantly better than bilinguals and monolinguals who had achieved a high level of aptitude in only one language.

b) Bilinguals who had achieved a high level of aptitude in only one language would not differ from monolinguals who had achieved an equivalent level of aptitude.

c) Bilinguals who had achieved a low level of aptitude in both of the languages would perform significantly lower than bilinguals or monolinguals who had achieved a high aptitude in at least one language.

From the past research we can observe that the threshold theory ascertains a very small feature of the performance on cognitive tests of those bilinguals who have achieved a low level of aptitude in both languages as compared with monolinguals who have achieved an equally low level of aptitude in their one language. The theory may imply that there would be no difference, but this is not a clear assumption. To assess the matter at an empirical level, a relevant group of monolinguals was also studied in this research.

Methodology:

Subjects

The subjects were 5 Welsh-English bilingual children (3 boys and 2 girls) and 3 English monolingual children (1 boy and 2 girls) from Bangor Gwynedd. Children were drawn from reception and grade 1 class in two primary schools. All children were 5 or 6 years old with the mean age for both groups being 5 years 8 months (Standard Deviation = 4 months).

Materials

English Proficiency

To evaluate English proficiency three types of test were used. These are - Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), Form M (Dunn & Dunn, 1981), and Vocabulary and Sentences from the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI; Wechsler, 1967). In order to differentiate these from the parallel Welsh tests these will be noted as PPVT 1, Vocabulary 1, and Sentences 1. Both tests were administered according to the standard test instructions, and raw scores were computed.

Welsh Proficiency

In order to evaluate Welsh aptitude the alternative version of PPVT, Form L (Dunn & Dunn, 1981), was translated into Welsh, and this was administered according to the standard test instructions. Alternative versions of the Vocabulary and the Sentences subtests are not available so two new tests were constructed by the author. These tests will be referred to as PPVT 2, Vocabulary 2, and Sentences 2. In constructing Vocabulary 2, English words of equal frequency and of the same category as the words in the Vocabulary test from the WPPSI were chosen from Kucera and Francis" (1967) extensive word corpus, and these were translated into Welsh. For Sentences 2 the main vocabulary was chosen from a first grade Welsh reader (Carr, 2010) and sentences of the same length as in the WPPSI Sentences subtest were constructed. Scoring of the new Vocabulary and Sentences subtests were based on the same criteria used in the WPPSI.

Creativity

To asses the creativity, two types of tests were selected from those designed for 5 and 6 year olds. One of these was Thinking Creatively in Action and Movement (Torrance, 1981) from which two measures were obtained: Fluency and Imagination. The other creativity test was the Verbal Fluency scale from the British Ability Scales (Elliot, 1983). Standard instructions have been used for each of these tests and raw scores have calculated.

Metalinguistic Awareness

To evaluate metalinguistic awareness five kinds of tasks has been used in these studies which were selected from a previous study of researchers that was concerned with the degree of consistency among 10 different metalinguistic tasks (Ricciardelli, Rump, & Proske, 1989, P. 19-40). These tasks were Word Discrimination, Word Length, Word Print, Symbol Substitution, and Word Order Correction, and all were scored simply as the number of correct responses, except where indicated.

Word Discrimination:

To assess children's understanding of the term word and their awareness of words in spoken language a task has been selected from Bowey, Tunmer, and Pratt (1984). The children were required to say whether each of 16 items consisted of one or two words (e.g., sun, the farm). A short training task was provided before the test items were preceded which involved similar instructions. There the children were required to say whether six words were animals or not (e.g., cow, wood). During the training task corrective feedback was provided.

Word Length:

According to the work of Papandropoulou and Sinclair (1974, P. 241- 258) this task has been designed. In this task the children's understanding of the term word and their ability to distinguish the word from the referent were assessed. Requirements of this task were similar to Word Discrimination, in that the children were required to say whether 16 items were long or short words. Four types of items were included here: (a) four short words with relatively "'long" referents (e.g., truck); (b) four long words with "short" referents (e.g., butterfly); (c) four short words with no referents (e.g., hot); and (d) four long words with no referents (e.g., beautiful).

Word Print:

This task has been adapted from Watson's (1979) Units of Print Test. This task was used to assess children's understanding of words and letters in print. The children were required to circle a given part of print within each of 10 boxes. For instance, in the first item the children were required to circle each word in the box containing these elements: on, 6, little, D, and 3. The children were given three practice trials taken from Watson to ensure that the children understood the requirements of the task prior to the test items. The children were required to circle specified figures in designated boxes in these three trials, and corrective feedback was given.

Symbol Substitution:

This task was based on Ben Zeev (1977) developed work. It was used to evaluate children's understanding of the arbitrary nature of language. In this test the children were required to replace with a given word for a target word in a sentence, though the result violated semantic and syntactic rules. The solution depends on grasping the idea that language is arbitrary and subject to change (Ben Zeev ,1977). Three simple practice trials were introduced in order to help the children understand the requirements of the task and corrective feedback was provided on these. For example - "In this game the way we say mum is to say dad, so how do we say Mum is cooking?" Subsequent to these practice items, 10 test items were prearranged. The children were required to replace a major part of speech for another major part of speech in half of the task. For instance, "In this game the way we say I is to say ice. So how do we say I am cold?" In the other items, the children were required to replace a minor part of speech for a major part. For example, "In this game the way we say under is to say play. So how do we say The kittens are under the tree?" All the items were chosen in such a way that the given word was related to the meaning of the sentence, and by this the sentence was not rendered completely nonsensical.

The items received a score of either 2, 1, or 0. Flexible answers were given the highest score, when the target word was correctly replaced and no attempt was made to resolve the resulting grammatical and semantic violation. For "rigid" answers the children received a score of i, when they replaced the target word for the given word and when they resolved the resulting grammatical or semantic violation. Finally, the children received a score of 0 in the following cases - if the given word was only repeated, if the given word was substituted incorrectly, if the sentence was merely repeated, or if the meaning of the sentence was changed. The maximum possible score on this task was 20.

Word Order Correction:

This task was based on a task developed by Pratt, Tunmer, and Bowey (1984, P. 129-149) which was used to assess grammatical awareness. In this task a puppet was introduced to the children. It was named Miss L. The children were told that Miss L had a lot of trouble saying things the right way round, and always said things the wrong way round. The children were requested to help Miss L say things the right way round. Only three simple word order violations were included in order to be appropriateness of the task for young children. These were - (1) subject-verb-object was changed to subject-object-verb (e.g., Dad the ear washes); (2) adjective-noun was changed to noun adjective (e.g., I like nights cold); and (3) verb-negator was changed to negator-verb (e.g., The lawn not is wet). They were first given three practice trials with corrective feedback, and these were followed by 12 test items.

Other Cognitive Areas

Three of the tests from the WPPSI were applied to assess nonverbal abilities: Animal House, Geometric Design, and Block Design, and Word Reading (Test Form A) from the British Abilities Scales (Elliot, 1983) was used to assess reading achievement.

Design and Procedure

Before starting the study parental consent was obtained for the children to take part, and two short questionnaires, Background Information and Literary Interests, were completed by all consenting parents. Background Information contained questions relating to the child's age, length of time at preschool and school, and educational level of parents. Literary Interests contained eight questions relating to the children's literary behavior at home like as reading, and each was scored on a 5-point scale. A third questionnaire, Language Background, which contained questions about the children's use of their two languages, was completed only by the parents of the bilingual children. The test items were administered in four sessions. Each session lasted approximately 30 min and there was an interval of 1 to 6 days between adjacent sessions. The language of testing for both bilinguals and monolinguals was English, except during the administration of the three Welsh verbal tests to the bilinguals. Children's responses to all test items were recorded on answer sheets.

A nonverbal test named Animal House was given first to all the children in Session 1, as a play like beginning. All subjects also completed three verbal tests in Session 1. Almost half of the bilinguals were first given three English proficiency tests in the order Vocabulary 1, PPVT

1, and Sentences 1. These children completed the Welsh proficiency tests in Session 2. The other half of the bilingual group received the three Welsh proficiency tests in Session 1, and the English proficiency tests in Session 2. After the three verbal tests in Session 2, all children were given two nonverbal tests, Geometric Design and Block Design. In Session 3, all subjects completed the Thinking Creatively in Action and Movement from which were obtained Torrance Fluency and Imagination, the Word Discrimination, the Word Length, and the Word Order Correction tests. In the last session, Session 4, all the children were given the Word Print, the Symbol Substitution, the Word Reading, and the Verbal Fluency tests.

Results and Discussion:

Data Analyses

In this study both of the monolinguals and the bilinguals were divided into subgroups in order to test the hypotheses generated from threshold theory. First they were divided into high and low English proficiency subgroups. The three verbal tests, PPVT 1, Vocabulary 1, and Sentences 1, were used to assess English proficiency and raw scores on each of these tests were converted to z-scores. These three z-scores were then summed and the totals were converted to T-scores. Both bilinguals and monolinguals with T-scores greater than the median (50.17) were reported as high on English proficiency, while the others were reported as low on English proficiency. The bilinguals were further divided into subgroups of those high and low on Welsh proficiency using the same procedure as for English proficiency, but using the equivalent Welsh tests. Bilinguals with a Welsh T-score greater than the median (46.38) were classified as high on Welsh proficiency, while the others were classified as low on Welsh proficiency. Therefore, six linguistic subgroups were defined, and for simplicity these are hereafter called groups. These are summarized in Table I. The mean English and Welsh T-scores for each of the groups are given in Table II. The mean scores on the background measures, age, length of time at preschool and school, mothers and father's education, and Literary Table I. Interests, for each of the six linguistic groups are given in Table III. As these background measures correlated significantly with several of the cognitive measures, they were employed as covariates in the following planned analyses, so that any group differences found on the cognitive measures could not be attributed to differences on the background measures.

Five planned comparisons were conducted to test the three proposed hypotheses and two additional questions. The planned comparisons were chosen such that they were both relevant to the theoretical questions of this study and independent of each other. In this way, each comparison gave some nonredundant and unrelated information to that provided by the others. For each of the five planned comparisons, a multivariate analysis of variance using Hotelling's T 2 was conducted first, as a check of the overall significance with 12 dependent measures. The dependent measures were: Torrance Fluency, Imagination, Verbal Fluency, Word Discrimination, Word Length, Word Print, Symbol Substitution, Word Order Correction, Word Reading, Animal House, Geometric Design, and Block Design. Group means on these measures for the six linguistic groups are given in Table IV.

The first planned comparison examined the performance of the high English and high Welsh bilinguals in relation to the high English monolinguals, and the high English and low Welsh bilinguals. Hypothesis 1 predicted that the group high on both English and Welsh would perform significantly better than the other two groups. The group low on English and high on Welsh was not included in this analysis because the children from this group completed the dependent measures in English. As a result, this latter group was tested in its weaker language. An overall significant difference was found on the first planned comparison: T 2 = .35, F (12, 89) = 2.61, p <.01. In addition, t-tests revealed significant differences in favor of the bilingual group high on both English and Welsh on five of the dependent measures: Torrance Fluency [t(100) = 2.28, p <.01]; Imagination It(100) = 2.12, p < .05]; Word Order Correction It(100) = 1.97, p < .05]; Word Reading [t(100) = 1.89, p <.05]; and Geometric Design [t(100) = 3.19, p < .01]. Performance on three other measures, Verbal Fluency, Word Discrimination, and Symbol Substitution, as shown in Table IV, also favored the group high on English and Welsh, even though the differences were not statistically significant.

The second planned comparison examined the performance of the high English monolinguals in relation to the high English and low Welsh bilinguals. As both of these groups had attained a high level of proficiency in only English, it was predicted that they would not differ significantly from each other. As expected, no overall significant difference was found for this analysis: T z = .17, F (12, 89) = 1.23, p > .05. In addition, none of the univariate analyses were significant.

The third planned comparison examined the performance of the three groups high on English in relation to the three groups low on English. In accordance with threshold theory, it was predicted that the former groups would perform significantly better than the latter groups. An overall significant difference was found: T 2 = .67, F (12, 89) = 4.96, p < .01. In addition, t-tests indicated that the performance of the high English groups was significantly superior to the low English groups on 11 of the dependent measures: Imagination [t(100) = 4.19,p <.01]; Verbal Fluency [t(100) = 2.72, p < .01]; Word Discrimination [t(100 = 1.66, p <.05]; Word Length It(100) = 3.95, p <.05]; Word Print It(100) = 3.23,p <.01]; Symbol Substitution [t(100) = 4.64,p <.01]; Word Order Correction [t(100) = 4.79, p <.01]; Word Reading [t(100) = 3.10, p < .01]; Animal House [t(100) = 2.93,p <.01]; Geometric Design [t(100) = 3.15, p <.01]; and Block Design It(100) = 2.61, p < .01].

Further Analyses

The fourth planned comparison was concerned with the performance of the low English monolingual group in relation to the low English and Welsh group. No prediction was made about the performance of these two groups as threshold theory has little to say about the performance of those bilinguals who have attained a low level of proficiency in both languages as compared with monolinguals who have attained an equally low level of proficiency in their one language. The results here indicated that there was no overall significant difference between the two groups: T 2 = .07, F (12, 89) = .49, p > .05. Nor were there significant differences on any of the individual univariate tests. The fifth and final planned comparison addressed a further question not examined by any of the other planned comparisons, that is, the performance of the low English and high Welsh bilingual group in relation to the low English monolingual and the low English and low Welsh bilingual groups. All three groups had attained a low level of proficiency in English, but the former group had attained a high level of proficiency in at least one of their languages, that is, Welsh. Therefore, it was of interest to examine if the former group differed significantly from the latter two groups on any of the other measures. An overall significant difference was found: T 2 = .26, F(12, 89) = 1.90, p <.05, and one of the t-tests was significant, indicating that the group low on English and high on Welsh performed less well than the other two groups on Imagination [t(100 ) = -2.18, p <.01]. These results provide some evidence to suggest that the low English and high Welsh bilinguals may have been disadvantaged because they were tested in their weaker language.

Conclusions:

On the whole, the results from this small scale empirical study are consistent with threshold theory, since an overall bilingual advantage on the cognitive measures was found only for those children who had attained a high degree of proficiency in both languages. A bilingual superiority was not found for those bilinguals who were high on English but low on Welsh, or for those bilinguals who were low on both English and Welsh. Furthermore, in line with threshold theory, it was found that the bilinguals who had attained a low level of proficiency in both of their languages overall performed significantly more poorly than the bilinguals who had attained a high level of proficiency in at least one of their languages. However, this least proficient bilingual group did not perform any differently from the less proficient monolingual group. Last, it was found that the bilinguals high on Welsh but low on English who were tested in their weaker language, English, performed on the whole significantly more poorly than the two groups who were low in each of their languages. This last result parallels some of the earlier studies which have reported a negative association between bilingualism and cognitive development (Darcy, 1963). Frequently, in these earlier studies bilinguals were tested in their weaker language, as was the group low on English but high on Welsh. The highly proficient bilinguals were not advantaged on all the dependent measures; rather they showed significant advantages in these specific areas: divergent thinking (Torrance Fluency), imagination, grammatical awareness (Word Order Correction), perceptual organization (Geometric Design), and reading achievement (Word Reading). These areas are varied and as varied as those found by previous research listed in the Introduction, e.g., perceptual disembedding (Duncan & De Avila, 1979); memory (Whitaker et al., 1985); and social sensitivity (Genesse et al., 1975). Little work has been done to investigate whether these areas where a bilingual superiority has been found are interrelated. On the whole, though, the results from this study suggest that the areas are not interrelated, as correlations among the various different measures are generally low. However, there was no evidence that the bilinguals irrespective of their degree of bilingualism were better on the two metalinguistic tasks which may be viewed as requiring more control of linguistic processing.

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