Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 9 : 8 August 2009
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Copyright © 2009
M. S. Thirumalai


Bi/Multilingualism and Issues in Management of
Communication Disorders
With Emphasis on Indian Perspectives

Shyamala Chengappa, Ph.D.


This article is an extended) version of the keynote address delivered by the author at the 7th International symposium on Bilingualism held at Utrecht, Netherlands from 8th -11th July 2009.

An Indian perspective of the following issues are highlighted in this paper.

  • Theoretical stand points of the west and the SLPs in India - past, present and future.
  • Actual context of Bi/Multilingualism in India
  • Indian languages - micro and macro structure
  • Assessment dilemmas.
  • Issues in assessment and treatment by SLP
  • Review of some of our studies
  • Clinical implications
  • Research implication, needs and future directions

Some theoretical Standpoints affecting SLPs work - Cognitive advantages (or disadvantages) of bilingualism Early studies

Earlier studies have provided support for the negative effects of bilingualism on cognitive development. Darcy (1953) concluded from review of relevant studies that bilinguals suffer from a language handicap when measured by verbal tests of intelligence. It was proposed that bilinguals never reached comparable levels of linguistic proficiency as did monolinguals. Researchers, theoreticians and professionals alike often viewed the simultaneous acquisition of two languages with apprehension .Starting with the 1960s; the propensity has changed towards the positive advantages of L2 use. These studies denunciate earlier studies since they depended largely on L2 users who differed in many factors other than knowing a second language. One major limitation was that these studies did not control for socioeconomic status (SES) between the bilingual and monolingual subjects.

As McCarthy (1930) argued, bilingualism in America was confounded with SES since more than half of the children classified as bilinguals in early studies belonged to families from the unskilled labor group. There was also a failure to adequately assess and consider differences in degree of bilingualism. There was a lack of clarity in how researchers defined and evaluated the bilingual or monolingual status of their subjects. Hakuta et al. (1986) opined that early psychologists used a societal definition of bilingualism in determining language proficiency .

Such methods therefore do not hold up to the present day scrutiny and may have thus resulted in biased results favoring monolinguals. Peal and Lambert's (1962) research suggested cognitive advantages to being bilingual, calling into question the validity of earlier studies and supporting the claims linguists had been making for years. With control in place for socio-economic variables many studies showed bilingual children as showing better metalinguistic skills across different language pairs.

Furthermore, Galambos (1982) found that El Salvadoran children proficient in English and Spanish demonstrated a stronger syntactic orientation when judging grammatically correct and incorrect sentences in both languages. Various studies in last two decades have shown the influence of bilingualism on word awareness leading to better reading skills (Bialystok & Herman, 1999; Bruck & Genesee 1993).These benefits were not just restricted to balanced bilinguals but significant benefits were observed for children whose contact with a second language was restricted (Yellend, et al, 1993).

Research appears to suggest a positive relationship between bilingualism and a wide range of other cognitive measures, including enhanced ability to restructure perceptual solutions (Balkan, 1970), stronger performances in rule discovery tasks (Bain, 1975), greater verbal ability and verbal originality, and precocious levels of divergent thinking and creativity (Cummins & Gulutsan, 1974). A growing number of studies have reported advantages in nonverbal executive control tasks for bilingual children (Bialystok, 2001; Carlson & Meltzoff, 2008; Mezzacappa, 2004) and adults (Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004; Bialystok, Craik, & Ryan, 2006; Costa, Hernandez, & Sebastia´n-Galle´ s, 2008).

In one set of studies, bilingualism has been shown to accelerate the development of executive control in children (Bialystok, 2001; Carlson & Melt-Zoff, 2008) using nonverbal control tasks such as the flanker task (Mezzacappa, 2004; Yang, Shih, & Lust, 2005), perceptual analysis (Bialystok & Shapero, 2005), and rule switching (Bialystok & Martin, 2004) .These effects persist into adulthood (Costa, Hernandez, & Sebastia´n-Galle´s, 2008) and appear to protect bilingual older adults against the decline of those processes in older age (Bialystok, Craik, Klein, & Viswanathan, 2004; Bialystok, Craik, & Ryan, 2006). The difference in executive control between monolinguals and bilinguals is larger in older age because the normal decline of these processes with aging is attenuated for bilinguals. Across the lifespan, therefore, bilingualism boosts the development and postpones the decline of executive control on a variety of tasks.

Of note, these life span effects were found in tasks that were nonverbal and were not obviously related to linguistic processing. It is possible that results may be different for linguistic processing.

Researchers have proposed various theories to explain this positive relationship

1. Objectification theory

This theory claims that by acquiring two languages, bilinguals learn more about the forms as well as the functions of language in general, which affects various cognitive processes. Experiences with two language systems may also enable bilinguals to have a precocious understanding of the arbitrariness.

The ability to objectify language is linked to a capacity. Piaget (1929) termed non-syncretism, is the awareness that attributes to an object do not transfer to the word itself.

Edwards and Christophersen (1988) found that bilinguals may have an enhanced level of such understanding, and researchers such as Olson (1977) have shown such capacity to be linked to literacy. Lastly, by learning that two words can exist for a single referent, bilinguals may develop not only increased knowledge of their L1 and L2, but of language in general as a symbolic system. Thus, such children may process concepts through higher levels of symbolic and abstract thinking.

2. Code switching theory

Because bilinguals are able to move rather easily from verbal production in one language to that in another, they may have an added flexibility. Peal and Lambert (1962) theorized that the ability to code-switch provides bilinguals with an added mental flexibility when solving cognitive tasks.

3. Verbal mediation theory

Bilinguals are believed to have an enhanced use of self regulatory functions of language as a tool of thought guiding inner speech or verbal thinking. Language may be a more effective tool for bilinguals in approaching cognitive tasks.

In order to understand the influences of bilingualism, it is important to take the unique features of participants, tasks and the relationships of those tasks to the constructs into consideration. The education level and the language of parents, the literacy environment , the extent of the child's proficiency in the first language, the purpose of learning the second language and the degree of community support are a few variables to be controlled .

Grosjean (1998) identifies methodological and conceptual issues in studying bilinguals, first explaining the issues, namely bilingual participants, language mode, stimuli, tasks, and the models of bilingual processing, then discussing the problems caused by these issues and finally proposing tentative solutions to those problems.

It is imperative that we design our studies in such a way that above mentioned variables be controlled to the maximum possible extent to generate reliable results.

Bi/ Multilingualism in the Global Indian Context

Bilingualism/multilingualism is more a norm than an exceptional phenomenon in today's world. The Handbook of Bilingualism by Bhatia and Ritchie (2004a) presents quite an interesting scenario of bilingualism and multilingualism in the world and India.

The world's estimated 5,000 languages are believed to be spoken in about 200 nations, an average of 25 languages per nation, and it is estimated that about two-thirds of children in the world grow up in a bilingual environment. Over 41 per cent of English speakers are estimated to be bilingual. The spread of bilingualism and multilingualism is likely to increase in the coming years. As a consequence, research in this field has also grown many folds in recent years.

Childhood Multilingualism in India

Demographics of India

  • India has 22 constitutionally accepted languages (Official).
  • Four Classical languages
  • There are about 1652 mother tongues (Census of India 1961) spoken in and around the country.
  • The major language families in India include
    • Indo-Aryan (74.3%, 209 languages), Hindi, Guajarati, etc…
    • Dravidian (23.9%, 73 languages), Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, etc…
    • Austro-Asiatic (1.2%, 1268 languages), Khasi, Munda, etc…
    • Tibeto-Burman (0.6%, 350 languages), Tibetan, Manipuri, etc..

This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.

A Study of Structural Duplication in Tamil and Telugu - A Doctoral Dissertation | Computational Linguistics as a Curriculum for Engineering Students in India | A Discourse Analysis of R. K. Narayan's The Man-eater of Malgudi | Sense of Place and Sense of Dislocation in Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace | Teaching English Language Skills for Law - A Malaysian Case Study | Bi/Multilingualism and Issues in Management of Communication Disorders With Emphasis on Indian Perspectives | Role of English as a Tool for Communication in Tamil Society | The Frequency of the Passive in Indian English | Light Verbs in Gojri | The Core Functions of the English Modals - Speech Act Approach | Phonological Mean Length of Utterance (Pmlu) in Kannada-Speaking Children | Tolkaappiyam - Kaviraajamaarga - A Brief Note of Comparison | A Review of A Quick Guide to Postgraduate Supervision | Procedure to Develop Competency Based Self-Learning Materials | HOME PAGE of August 2009 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

Shyamala Chengappa, Ph.D.
Department of Speech-Language Pathology
All India Institute of Speech and Hearing
Mysore 570006
Karnataka, India

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