Marshall M. Weinberg Symposium






Date:        29 March 2012
                  9:00 A.M. - 6:00 P.M.


Location:  Rackham Amphitheater
                   4th floor, Rackham Graduate School
                   915 East Washington St., Ann Arbor, MI

The Marshall M. Weinberg Symposium is an annual interdisciplinary event that focuses on cognitive science and includes a philosophical commentary.  The topic of the 2012 Symposium is Bilingualism.   Most people in the world are bilingual or multilingual, but most research on language and the brain has historically investigated language processing, language learning, and language use in monolinguals.  Increasingly, however, neurolinguists and psycholinguists are studying the organization of language in the bilingual brain, and sociolinguists are studying bilingual language use.


The purpose of this Symposium is to explore the implications of such research for theories of human cognition.  The first five speakers are specialists in bilingualism who will address the topic from a variety of perspectives: spoken-/signed-language bilingualism, code-switching and language mixing, cognitive development and bilingualism, preverbal infants and bilingualism, and first- vs. second-language bilingual acquisition in children.  The sixth speaker is a philosopher who will pull together the strands of the five bilingualism talks by considering philosophical implications of the phenomenon of bilingualism.

This event is sponsored by the Department of Linguistics, with funding from an endowment for Philosophy and Cognitive Science.


The Symposium schedule:



Welcome remarks: Terrence McDonald, Dean, College of Literature, Science and the Arts


Sally Thomason, University of Michigan

Introduction: Bilingualism and the brain


Karen Emmorey, San Diego State University (website)

Bimodal bilingualism: When language is both spoken and signed

    Abstract +

Bimodal bilinguals (people who are fluent in a signed and a spoken language) use separate perceptual and motoric systems for each language. This separation of systems has significant implications for language mixing patterns, for the cognitive effects of bilingualism, and for the structural and neural changes that accompany bilingualism. Language mixing is unique for bimodal bilinguals because they do not need to inhibit one language to speak the other (as required for code-switching); rather, bimodal bilinguals can code-blend and produce elements from their two languages at the same time. In addition, bimodal bilinguals out-perform monolingual speakers on mental rotation and face processing tasks, and this enhanced performance is thought to be tied to the processing demands of sign language (e.g., understanding spatial descriptions requires mental rotation, and grammatical facial expressions are used to indicate syntactic structure). Bimodal bilinguals also exhibit differences in neural activity when perceiving facial expressions and when producing spatial descriptions compared to monolingual speakers. Finally, we are beginning to uncover structural, as well as functional changes in the brain that appear to be unique to bimodal bilinguals.


Peter Auer, University of Freiburg (website)

From language mixing to "mixed languages": When style becomes grammar

    Abstract +

All languages have copied ('borrowed') structures from others throughout their history, mostly single content words or constructional grammatical schemas, less frequently grammatical or phonological substance. There are, however, languages in which the admixture of other-language elements is so strong that, in the extreme case, linguists, and often also speakers, are not sure how to trace back these languages to one single other (ancestor) language. These varieties have been called "mixed languages";  I propose the more encompassing notion of "language fusion". Processes of fusion share with language mixing that on the surface of utterances, and within syntactic units, elements are juxtaposed which can be labelled as part of/as going back to different languages. The difference is that in the case of language mixing, we are dealing with a social style. In fusion, on the other hand, a new variety/language has emerged in which the juxtaposition of the two languages has become grammaticised and is not open to stylistic manipulation any longer. The speakers therefore have no choice.

In my presentation, I want to show that an important way for fusion to emerge is out of (frequent) language mixing. It will be argued that there are only two basic types of fused languages; and that these two types can be mapped onto two wide-spread strategies of insertional mixing. These two strategies are nonce borrowing and the insertion of embedded language islands into a matrix language frame.


Coffee break


Fred Genesee, McGill University (website)

Early bilingualism: Perils and possibilities

    Abstract +

It is estimated that more children around the world grow up learning or are educated in two languages than only one. Despite the prevalence of early bilingualism, research on young dual language learners began to flourish only in the late 1980s. Parents, educators, and other professionals often express concern that raising or educating children bilingually will jeopardize children’s language or academic development. This presentation will review research evidence concerning some common beliefs about early bilingualism in family and educational contexts. Specifically, the following concerns will be addressed: early dual language acquisition can result in delays and even deficits in language development, bilingual code-mixing is a sign of confusion, dual language learning is not appropriate for children with specific language impairment or other learning challenges, and the key to successful education for minority language children is immersion in English.




Núria Sebastián Gallés, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona (website)

Creeping and scooting on two languages

    Abstract +

Studies of preverbal infants exposed to a bilingual environment have unveiled the existence of important similarities, but also significant differences in the way monolinguals-to-be and bilinguals-to- be solve the problem of language acquisition. In this talk I will review the evidence that shows how very young babies can differentiate the languages of their environment, how they learn the sounds of their languages, and how they learn the very first words.  These studies provide important clues to the nature of the successful solutions bilingual babies develop to learn two languages and to become competent adult bilingual speakers.


Jürgen M. Meisel, University of Hamburg & University of Calgary (website [Hamburg], website [Calgary])

Child bilingualism: Two first languages or early second language acquisition?

    Abstract +

Comparisons of monolingual (L1) and multilingual (2L1) first language development have shown that children exposed to two or more languages from birth are able to develop a native grammatical competence in each of their languages. They differentiate grammatical systems from early on and proceed through the same developmental phases as monolinguals. Successive acquisition of languages, however, results in qualitative differences, as compared to (2)L1, at least if age of onset of acquisition occurs at age eight or later (L2). This raises the question of whether successive acquisition at an earlier age can lead to the same results as simultaneous acquisition. Since the overwhelming majority of L2 studies compare adult L2 to L1, surprisingly little is known about early successive language acquisition. Recent research suggests, however, that if onset of acquisition happens at around age 4 or later, the acquired grammatical knowledge will be distinct from that of (2)L1 learners and resemble adult L2 acquisition in at least some respects. I will argue that these differences are primarily caused by maturational changes of the brain. Research on child bilingualism thus provides strong support for the assumption that the human Language Making Capacity constitutes an endowment for bilingualism which, however, is only fully accessible to the language learner at an early age.


Coffee break


Gilbert Harman, Princeton University (website)

Philosophical implications of bilingualism


Panel discussion with questions from the audience


Reception in the Rackham Assembly Hall