The Bilingual Brain: And What It Tells Us about the Science of Language
Costa (Albert)
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Inside Cover Blurb

  1. Over half of the world's population is bilingual and yet few of us understand how this extraordinary, complex ability really works. How do two languages co-exist in the same brain? What are the advantages and challenges of being bilingual? How do we learn - and forget - a language?
  2. In the first study of its kind, leading expert Albert Costa shares twenty years of experience to explore the science of language. Looking at studies and examples from Canada to France to South Korea, The Bilingual Brain investigates the significant impact of bilingualism on daily life from infancy to old age. It reveals, among other things, how babies differentiate between two languages just hours after birth, how accent affects the way in which we perceive others and even why bilinguals are better at conflict resolution.
  3. Drawing on cutting-edge neuro-linguistic research from his own laboratory in Barcelona as well from centres across the world, and his own bilingual family, Costa offers an absorbing examination of the intricacies and impact of an extraordinary skill. Highly engaging and hugely informative, The Bilingual Brain leaves us all with a sense of wonder at how language works.
  4. Albert Costa was1 Research Professor at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and director of the Speech Production and Bilingualism Group at the Centre for Brain and Cognition. His research focused on the cognitive and neural underpinnings of language processing.

    Prologue – ix
  1. Bilingual Cradles – 1
  2. Two Languages, One Brain – 29
  3. How Does Bilingualism Sculpt the Brain? – 66
  4. Mental Gymnastics – 95
  5. Making Decisions – 121
    Further Reading – 149
    Image Credits – 151
    Index – 153

  1. I found it a fairly quick and easy read, though it took a while in elapsed time as it was never a priority.
  2. One thing that was clear is that the underlying research is very much “work in progress” and the author always pointed out that while the results pointed in a certain direction (or enthusiasts saw things that way) the various cases were far from proved.
  3. I’ve not time for my own detailed write-up, so it’s worth – as a reminder – just reproducing the summary of certain key points (“Four things you didn't know about the bilingual brain”) put out by publishers (as revealed by Amazon). As noted, the book is rather less bullish than the text below implies:-
    1. Bilingual newborns can differentiate between two languages as early as hours after birth.
      • In different studies babies were exposed to several sentences in the first language, then a sentence in a second language. While this was happening, they were sucking on a pacifier with a sensor attached. As the rhythm of the sucking changed on hearing a second language, we can assume they noticed a change in language.
    2. Language affects our decision making: bilinguals are less influenced by their emotions in their second language.
      • Bilinguals make more utilitarian decisions in their second language. A study presented the classic trolley problem to 400 native speakers of Spanish who spoke English as a second language: would you push a man onto the train tracks in order to save five other lives?
      • When the dilemma was presented in their first language, only 17% of the participants chose to sacrifice the man’s life. When it was presented in the second language, that option was chosen in 40% of the cases.
    3. Bilingualism reduces the effects of brain deterioration and can delay dementia for up to four years.
      • A study in Toronto focused on 184 patients with signs of a neurodegenerative disease (Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia). Half of the patients were bilingual and the other half were monolingual.
      • Monolinguals reported having noticed the symptoms at a younger age (71) than the bilinguals (75). This suggests that bilingualism helps the development of cognitive reserve, which in turn reduces the negative effects of brain deterioration.
    4. Language and accent are one of the most important social identifiers – more so than skin colour.
      • A study showed that children preferred to interact with other children of a different skin colour and who were native English speakers more than with children with the same skin colour but who spoke English with a foreign accent.
      • When we interact with someone with a foreign accent, we tend to only remember the gist of the conversation and not specific words. We tend to have more doubts about the believability of facts stated by speakers with a foreign accent compared to native speakers.
  4. Further on bilingualism, see "Grant (Angela) - The bilingual brain: why one size doesn’t fit all".

In-Page Footnotes ("Costa (Albert) - The Bilingual Brain: And What It Tells Us about the Science of Language")

Footnote 1:

Allen Lane (30 Jan. 2020). Hardback

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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