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The psycholinguistics of bilingualism ed. by François Grosjean, Ping Li (review)

From: Language
Volume 89, Number 4, December 2013
pp. 963-966 | 10.1353/lan.2013.0077

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Reviewed by
The psycholinguistics of bilingualism. Ed. by François Grosjean and Ping Li. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Pp. 256. ISBN 9781444332797. $34.95.

The importance of bilingualism has taken on a new meaning in the last few years. Gone are the days when people wondered if speaking two languages doomed people to be confused or unable to express themselves. Instead, researchers have come to suggest that switching between two languages benefits individuals by allowing them to exercise their mental control muscles in a significant way. Whereas the current focus of attention on bilingualism undoubtedly benefits all researchers in the area, it also draws attention away from a long tradition of research in this field. It is here that Grosjean and Li’s edited volume on the psycholinguistics of bilingualism serves to update those interested in understanding the latest findings in this field while still covering the importance of control in bilingual language processing. The introduction lays the foundation for the rest of the book by informing the reader of its main goals. It accomplishes this by providing a targeted overview of the field by melding the expertise of the editors together with the contributions of additional experts in the field. What results is a volume that covers many different areas [End Page 963] of bilingualism across development. As such it is a must-read for anyone who is looking to become acquainted with this field for the first time as well as those who would like a more recent update.

What is a bilingual? The seemingly simple question can generate many answers. For some, bilingual means that one speaks both languages from a young age with equal proficiency. For others, it is knowledge that counts. Long known for his important views such as ‘a bilingual is not two monolinguals in one head’, François Grosjean begins the first chapter, ‘Bilingualism: A short introduction’, with a simple definition of bilingualism: ‘the use of two or more languages (or dialects) in everyday life’ (5). The portrait he paints is a nuanced one that helps to overcome many misconceptions. He shows that bilinguals are not necessarily good translators and that many speakers of a language have accents. In further supporting this view, Grosjean shows us how dynamic bilingualism can be by considering how bilinguals may interact differently with monolinguals and bilinguals, and how two languages can wax and wane. What emerges from this first chapter is clearly a complex, multidimensional view of what bilingualism is.

In the next two chapters, Grosjean goes on to tackle another contradiction in bilingual language research—speech recognition and production. He begins by noting that a lot of attention has been paid to how bilinguals recognize visual words and the ways in which bilinguals read. Relatively less work has focused on speech recognition and production. Grosjean does an admirable job of covering this field. Speech perception, which he covers in Ch. 2, presents a particularly complex and fluid conundrum for the bilingual speaker. First of all, a bilingual has to deal with two different sets of sounds in two different languages. As such, the typical bilingual would need two duplicate systems, one for each language. This becomes more complex when one considers how bilinguals handle bilingual speech, especially in conditions of code-switching or mixing. This can add another layer of complexity: for example, when spoken language contains linguistic constructions that differ across languages, language-specific elements are likely to activate only the corresponding language system. Grosjean considers the base-language effect and several studies on the recognition of code-mixing in bilingual speech. The chapter concludes by presenting the bilingual model of lexical access (BIMOLA), which seeks to address many of the issues that are presented in the chapter.

Ch. 3, ‘Speech production’, also written by Grosjean, helps to finish up the first section of the book. The central issue surrounding this chapter is whether bilinguals must select a language while producing words in that language. The chapter first considers how thought is transformed into language in a monolingual. Much like speech recognition, speech production provides a complex set of circumstances in bilinguals. Bilinguals could be faced with communicating with...