This award was provided as part of NSF's Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE) Postdoctoral Research Fellowships (SPRF) program and SBE's Linguistics program. The goal of the SPRF program is to prepare promising, early career doctoral-level scientists for scientific careers in academia, industry or private sector, and government. SPRF awards involve two years of training under the sponsorship of established scientists and encourage Postdoctoral Fellows to perform independent research. NSF seeks to promote the participation of scientists from all segments of the scientific community, including those from underrepresented groups, in its research programs and activities; the postdoctoral period is considered to be an important level of professional development in attaining this goal. Each Postdoctoral Fellow must address important scientific questions that advance their respective disciplinary fields. Under the sponsorship of Dr. Judith Kroll at the University of California, Irvine, this research will investigate language regulation and cognitive control among unimodal and bimodal bilinguals versus monolinguals. An increasing number of children in the US grow up in a home in which a language other than English is spoken. Most of these children become dominant in English as the majority language of the community once they transition to school, but maintain their bilingualism, as heritage speakers of the home language. With support from the NSF, PI Frederiksen?s postdoctoral research at UC Irvine will investigate the consequence of this early language experience for young adult bilinguals whose active language use takes different forms. For those who are hearing but whose parents are deaf, there is the experience of growing up with a sign language as the heritage language and becoming a bilingual in two modalities, sign and speech. For those exposed to a spoken language in the home, there is the experience of being a bilingual in two languages that use the same spoken modality. In each case, the home language potentially imposes different linguistic and cognitive demands on learners that shape their use of English as the dominant language in young adulthood. The planned research will examine bilinguals who differ in terms of language proficiency, contexts of language use, and the sensory-motor modality of their languages, and asks whether discourse processing in English differs in bilinguals as a result of these factors. There is a growing understanding that a bilinguals? two languages influence each other and create language systems that are different from those of monolinguals. For this reason, it is crucial to better understand how variation in language experience shapes the linguistic system of a bilingual?s stronger language in order to promote academic and economic success of an increasingly diverse segment of the population. UC Irvine is both an Asian-serving and Hispanic-serving institution, providing an ideal context for the planned research. The planned research also contributes to the training of a diverse group of language and cognitive neuroscientists by the inclusion of undergraduate research students, most of whom are themselves bilingual.

Although bilinguals tend to have stronger cognitive control abilities than monolinguals, it has been reported that bilinguals who know a signed and a spoken language look more like monolinguals than other bilinguals in these abilities. Because sign languages use the hands and eyes while spoken languages use the mouth and ears, sign-speech bilinguals do not need to suppress one of their languages but can use both at the same time. On the other hand, recent research has shown that cognitive control abilities are gradient more than categorical. For example, in bilinguals, cognitive control is highly variable depending on the contexts in which they use and regulate their languages, and in monolinguals, language processing efficiency receives a boost from explicit, online engagement of cognitive control. PI Frederiksen will use behavioral and electrophysiological methods to test how sign-speech bilinguals process discourse in their dominant language compared to monolinguals and speech-speech bilinguals. The bilingual groups will vary in proficiency and in linguistic circumstances so as to enable examination of how processing of the dominant language is affected by bilingualism-induced changes to general executive control and by the interactions between different cognitive control abilities. In particular, the project investigates how language processing and cognitive control may interact differently as a function of sensory-motor language modality.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
SBE Office of Multidisciplinary Activities (SMA)
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Josie S. Welkom
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Frederiksen, Anne Therese
La Jolla
United States
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