Speech patterns in bilingualism: How one language affects the other

  • Date

    Thu 20 Jul 17

An Essex linguist has secured a major European research grant to study the differences in the speech of children who have been bilingual since birth, compared to adults who choose to learn a second language later in life.

Dr Coralie Hervé, based in our Department of Language and Linguistics, is to receive just under 200,000 Euros from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme in order to complete the two year project which will be conducted in collaboration with Professor Florence Myles at the Centre for Research in Language Development throughout the Lifespan (LaDeLi).

Dr Hervé hopes the study will lead to a greater understanding of the precise variables that affect the way the two languages influence each other when spoken and commented:

“When someone is bilingual, the two languages will interfere with each other to a certain extent. For example, ‘the’ is not used in exactly the same context in French and English. At a certain point in time, a bilingual may use ‘the’ in a way that has purely been influenced by their other language. This person will then speak and understand that language in a slightly different way to a monolingual speaker.

“We know this phenomenon exists but we need to further investigate what the variables are that will cause one language to have influence over the other. We need to understand, for example, why at that particular moment a child or an advanced adult learner of a second language would show more linguistic variation than at another.”

Dr Hervé believes an increased understanding of the various specificities around bilingualism could prevent it from being unnecessarily blamed in the diagnosis of conditions such as dyslexia and other speech impairments.

“We need to learn more about how the degree of exposure to each language, the age of acquisition of that language and how well that language is then spoken will affect a bilingual person’s chances of displaying cross linguistic differences.”

Dr Hervé will be studying both children and adults who are bilingual in French and English.

Horizon 2020 is the largest EU Research and Innovation programme. At its inception in 2014 it offered nearly 80 billion Euros worth of funding over the next seven years until 2020.

“We are very proud to attract this competitive EU funding and this research into bilingualism will answer many central questions pertinent to a large number of people who speak more than one language in our very multilingual society.”
Professor Nancy Kula Head of the Department of Language and Linguistics

The Department of Language and Linguistics at Essex is ranked top 10 in the UK for research quality (REF 2014).