Bilingual children display comparative strength using prosodic cues for pragmatic word learning
Lorge I., Katsos N.
Aims/objectives/research questions: Previous studies indicate differences in the way children who grow up with two languages use socio-pragmatic cues to help them identify referents and learn new words, yet the nature of these differences (executive control, better attention to social cues, or pragmatic reasoning) has not been investigated. Design/methodology/approach: This study examined 270 monolingual and bilingually exposed 4–6-year-old children’s performance in 2 tasks using different prosodic cues (contrastive stress and emotional affect) for fast mapping. It avoids a design where children have to inhibit an irrelevant cue, which would enhance the role of differences in executive control. Data/analysis: We performed statistical analyses using a logistic regression mixed model. Findings/conclusions: The bilingually exposed group performed lower than monolinguals in a control condition involving structural language (0.83 vs. 0.92). However, they performed on par with monolinguals in a pragmatic condition when considering only semantically correct answers in both groups (0.55 vs. 0.58), and even displayed significant comparative strength in the task once control performance and demographic variables were taken into account. This effect appeared when the task required reasoning about the speaker’s communicative intentions (contrastive stress) but not when children merely had to recognise a communicative cue (emotional affect). Originality: No study has so far investigated the socio-pragmatic abilities of bilingual children using a task that did not require inhibiting an irrelevant cue. Implications: These findings have implications for bilingual education and a better understanding of the impact of being educated in two languages. We also draw attention to implications regarding the existence of different types of pragmatic skills which may have differing developmental timelines and rely on different sets of abilities.