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BILINGUALISM + SOUND CHANGING / ADQUISITION

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allison heuduck

on 7 November 2012

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Transcript of BILINGUALISM + SOUND CHANGING / ADQUISITION

BILINGUALISM + SOUND CHANGING /ACQUISITION Bilinguals Juggle Sounds The Role of Bilingualism in Nilotic Sound Change Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals
and relates to executive function advantages Bilingualism Fine-Tunes Hearing,
Enhances Attention New evidence suggests the experience of bilingualism changes how the nervous system responds to sound. A Northwestern University study provides biological evidence that bilinguals' rich experience with language "fine-tunes" their auditory nervous system and helps them juggle linguistic input in ways that enhance attention and working memory.
The Nilotic family, a group of languages spoken in East Africa allows a uniform subgrouping on the basis of Neogrammarian principles of shared innovations. Nevertheless, there is also evidence for wave-like innovations cutting across intragenetic boundaries. For example, the original contrast between implosive and plosive stops, only retained in three Nilotic languages synchronically, must have been lost independently in different subgroups. Interestingly, implosion has been retained as a distinctive feature in Nilotic languages bordering on other languages where this feature also occurs. This distributional fact suggests that language contact and bilingualism favoured not only the innovation but also the retention of certain phonetic properties of sound systems. A more speculative aspect of the present contribution concerns sound change in expressive words. There is some evidence that separate mechanisms may be operative in such words.
Bilingualism profoundly affects the brain, yielding functional and structural changes in cortical regions dedicated to language processing and executive function. Comparatively, musical training, translates to expertise in cognitive processing and refined biological processing of sound in both cortical and subcortical structures. Therefore, we asked whether bilingualism can also promote experience-dependent plasticity in subcortical auditory processing. We found that adolescent bilinguals, listening to the speech syllable [da], encoded the stimulus more robustly than age-matched monolinguals. Specifically, bilinguals showed enhanced encoding of the fundamental frequency, a feature known to underlie pitch perception and grouping of auditory objects. This enhancement was associated with executive function advantages. A new study provides the first biological evidence that bilinguals’ rich experience with language “fine-tunes” their auditory nervous system and helps them juggle linguistic input in ways that enhance attention and working memory.
Bilingualism expert Viorica Marian teamed up with auditory neuroscientist Nina Kraus to investigate how bilingualism affects the brain. In particular, they looked at subcortical auditory regions that are bathed with input from cognitive brain areas.
Kraus has already shown that lifelong music training enhances language processing, and looking at subcortical auditory regions helped to tell that tale. “For our joint study, we asked if bilingualism could also promote experience-dependent changes in the fundamental encoding of sound in the brainstem -- an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain,” said Marian, professor of communication sciences.
For the study, the researchers recorded the brainstem responses to complex sounds in 23 bilingual (English and Spanish) teenagers and 25 English-only-speaking teens as they heard speech sounds in two conditions.
In quiet conditions, the groups responded similarly. But against a backdrop of background noise, bilingual brains were significantly better at encoding the fundamental frequency of speech sounds known to underlie pitch perception and grouping of auditory objects. This enhancement was linked with advantages in auditory attention.
"Bilinguals are natural jugglers," said co-author and bilingualism expert Viorica Marian. "The bilingual juggles linguistic input and, it appears, automatically pays greater attention to relevant versus irrelevant sounds. Rather than promoting linguistic confusion, bilingualism promotes improved 'inhibitory control,' or the ability to pick out relevant speech sounds and ignore others." Thus, through experience-related tuning of attention, the bilingual auditory system becomes highly efficient in automatically processing sound. This study provides biological evidence for system-wide neural plasticity in auditory experts that facilitates a tight coupling of sensory and cognitive functions. The answer is a resounding yes, according to the study the researchers found the experience of bilingualism changes how the nervous system responds to sound.
“People do crossword puzzles and other activities to keep their minds sharp,” Marian said. “But the advantages we’ve discovered in dual language speakers come automatically simply from knowing and using two languages. It seems that the benefits of bilingualism are particularly powerful and broad, and include attention, inhibition and encoding of sound.”
“Bilingualism serves as enrichment for the brain and has real consequences when it comes to executive function, specifically attention and working memory,” sensory and cognitive functions. “The bilingual’s enhanced experience with sound results in an auditory system that is highly efficient, flexible and focused in its automatic sound processing, especially in challenging or novel listening conditions,” Kraus added.
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