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AThEME project newsletter


Summer 2015

Research news


There are four AThEME research groups, each tackling different types of questions. Find out more about what each group has been up to over the past six months.
Regional Languages in Multilingual Europe

The EU recognises over 60 regional languages, and up to 40 million speakers of those languages across the EU. Regional languages are therefore a key element of multilingualism in Europe.

In the first year of the project, researchers compiled two extensive state of the art reports which have now been submitted to the European Union: a state of the art report on the maintenance of regional bilingualism, and a state of the art report on grammatical diversity of regional languages.

These reports outlined the history, distribution, grammatical variations and "vitality" of regional languages which are being studied as part of AThEME. "Language vitality" measures a language's sociolinguistic situation, including how endangered it is and people's attitudes towards the language. It is based on UNESCO Language Vitality and Engangerment document (2003).

The languages covered in the reports included 
  • Basque (regional language spoken in North-East Spain and South-West France)
  • Frisian, Limburgish and Low Saxon (regional languages spoken in the Netherlands); 
  • Fiuman (dialect of Italian spoken in Croatia);
  • Gaelic (regional language traditionally spoken in the Scottish highlands and islands); 
  • Gallo (regional language spoken in Northern France); 
  • Sardinian (regional language spoken on Sardinia);  
  • Primroskia Slovenian (group of Slovenian dialects spoken in an area crossing the Slovenia-Italian border);
  • Variants of Italian (Trentino) and German (South Tyrolean) spoken in Northern Italy, spoken in Northern Italy
  • Ladin, Cimbrian and Mòcheno (regional languages, also spoken in Northern Italy)
Over the next few months the researchers will be authoring a paper on grammatical diversity and language contact - how do different languages spoken in the same region affect one another's grammatical traits?
 

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Heritage Languages and Language Users in the EU

A heritage language is one that families bring with them when they move to a different country. Speakers of heritage languages often face particular barriers relating to perceptions of immigration and ethnic diversity across Europe.

 
Researchers from Queen Mary University London and University of Utrecht have published a state-of-the-art paper on the new forms of languages that have emerged in multilingual areas of European cities (these new styles are known as multiethnolects). The paper reviews research from the past decade and explores sociological attitudes towards these language variants. The paper, entitled Emerging multiethnolects in Europe, was published as part of Queen Mary Occasional Papers Advancing Linguistics, and you can read the full article here.

Researchers at the University of Konstanz have been investigating the attitudes of majority language speakers (in this case, native speakers of German living in Germany) towards speakers of heritage languages like Turkish. The researchers are also designing experiments and questionnaires to gather more empirical data about how the amount and type of exposure to a majority language affects migrant speaker's ability to produce certain characteristics of that language.

The team at University of Nantes are pleased to welcome Jiyoung Choi as a post-doctoral researcher to focus on heritage Korean in France. A lot of work has been done on heritage Korean in the USA, and the idea is to compare the results of the work in the USA with those of heritage speakers in France.

University of Leiden have also hired a post-doctoral researcher, Khalid Mourigh, to join the team there working on Moroccan Dutch. Since the 1980s there is a relatively large population of Moroccan heritage youth growing up in the Netherlands and using Dutch among peers. Leiden have already begun data collection, including interviews, questionnaires, and even language from internet forums.

The team have even begun developing apps to help children learn Rif Berber or Tamazight - the home language of most Moroccans in the Netherlands. Researchers Dr Khalid Mourigh and Prof Maarten Kossman have been working with third-year students from the Web and Mobile Applications courses at the regional education centre in Leiden. The apps should be available to download at the end of 2015 - more information here
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Multilingualism and Communicative Impairment

Many people experience a form of communicative impairment - from stammering, dyslexia and Specific Language Impairment in children, to aphasia following a stroke or traumatic brain injury later in life. But what happens when someone with communicative impairment speaks more than one language?

Researchers Constantin Freitag and Josef Bayer from the University of Konstanz have been gathering data about how native speakers of German process verbs, which can either come second in the sentence, or move to the end of the sentence, depending on the type of structure being used. The research will provide an important baseline for investigating language processing in L2-learners of German. They presented posters outlining their work at the 28th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing (Los Angeles, US) and at the XII International Symposium of Psycholinguistics (Valencia, Spain).

A key objective of this research group is to investigate specific language variation and linguistic abilities in multilingual populations suffering from Dyslexia and Specific Language Impairment. Several studies have already been carried out by teams at the University of Reading and the University of Verona, in collaboration with University Pompeu Fabra and Basque Centre for Language and Cognition. Further studies are currently under execution, involving Chinese/Italian and German/Italian bilinguals in order to investigate the relationship between L2 proficiency and reading skills in the native language.

Work has started in the Meertens Institute in the Netherlands looking at how elderly citizens might use their knowledge of different languages (in this case, Dutch and linguistically distinct dialects) to construct a sense of belonging. PhD student Jolien Clijsten's project will place particular emphasis on the role of language on maintaining well-being following a change of living environment - for example, to a nursing home in later life. Jolien's PhD is also partially financed by Maastricht University.
 
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Being Multilingual

This research theme will focus on the cognitive aspects of multilingualism. Researchers will look at the possible relationship between language and other mental operations like attention and memory, and try to find which factors can best predict how well someone learns a second language.


Much of the research in this work package centres around the relationship between language and executive function (tasks such as switching attention between tasks, or ignoring distracting information), and the possible effects of language distance - how similar two languages are.

Experiments are currently ongoing investigating whether Gaelic-English bilinguals process passive constructions in a similar way across both languages, and how Mandarin-Dutch bilinguals might process mass nouns and count nouns. Testing methods planned for future studies include reaction time (measuring how quickly people respond to words or phrases), eye-tracking (recording how long people spend reading particular parts of a sentence), and electroencephalography (EEG; recording electrical activity along the scalp as people read or listen to sentences).

A poster outlining the results of preliminary work on Gaelic-English bilinguals will be presented by PhD student Catríona Gibb at the forthcoming AMLAP (Architectures of Mechanisms of Language Processing) conference in Malta, September 2015.

Albert Costa from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona is the lead researcher in this group and recently spoke with major Spanish newspaper "La Vanguardia" on his research (read the Spanish language article here). In September, Prof. Costa will organise a symposium on 'The Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism' at the 19th Conference of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCOP), featuring presentations from several fellow AThEME contributers (full symposium programme here).
 
Researchers at the Basque Centre for Cognition and Language have compiled a list of their AThEME-related publications, in press and recently published. Read the full list here

Upcoming events


Key dates for your diary over the coming months.


10-12 September 2015 (Nantes, France)
Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition - Academic conference with special session on heritage language acquisition. 
More information: email GALA 2015 organisers

25-26 September (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
DRONGOfestival - Public events celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity in the Netherlands.
More informationhttp://www.drongofestival.nl/

16 October (Konstanz, Germany)
"Multilingualism in day care and in schools - new paths and new challenges" - workshop with international speakers.

More information: workshop website 

19 November (Limburg, Netherlands)
Workshop for multilingual families - title and programme TBA.
More information: email event organisers

Meet the Researcher


Dr Andrea Padovan is a researcher in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at the University of Verona. We ask him about all things bilingual. 



 

Dr Andrea Padovan

Andrea is interested in grammatical processing, and sociolinguistics. In particular, he wants to know what happens when two languages live in contact with one another in a particular area (or speaker!)
 

How would you define "bilingual"?

Before entering the extremely interesting world of bi- and multilingualism as a post-doctoral research fellow, I had a vary naïve opinion on the matter. I used to think that an individual can only be defined bilingual if he or she has acquired two languages by a critical period (which I didn't really understand), and reached a relatively high level of competence in both. Moreover, I used to think that if you fail to reach that level of competence before that (somehow mysterious) critical period then you will never be a bilingual person, but merely a monolingual with partial knowledge of a second language.

Only recently have I discovered that adult learners of a second language can also be considered bilinguals if they speak a second language on a regular basis. This perspective completely changes the commonplace opinion on bilingualism and might also infuse a great deal of motivation in adult language learning.
 

How did you first become interested in bilingualism?


Some years ago, when I first started carrying out research in minority languages for a post-doctoral fellowship. Since minority language speakers are always bilingual I had to take into account the typical characteristics of these individuals when I tried to pin down the main features of their competence.
 

Can you tell us about any recent bilingualism research you have been involved in? And what are you looking at as part of AThEME?

The AThEME branch I am currently working in is interested in contact phenomena in a Northern Italian area where various dialects and minority languages are spoken. My colleagues and I are collecting data in isolated Alpine valleys where we interview speakers of Romance varieties like Ladin and Trentino dialects or Germanic varieties like Cimbrian, Mòcheno and Tyrolean dialects. In the questionnaires we administer there are several tasks testing their bilingual competence at all levels: translation tasks (from Italian into own variety), felicity judgment tasks, lists of words to be read out. Personally, I am thrilled when new pieces of data or signs of change turn up unexpectedly e.g. in older speakers (and not in younger ones). Sometimes apparently innocent details turn out to be linked to major phenomena and hint at an unexpected change.
 

Do you speak any other languages?

I speak English and German. I use English mainly for my research, whereas I use German in teaching (German language/lingustics classes)
 

What have you found to be the hardest thing about researching bilingualism?


First of all you have got to be aware of what you are looking for. As I said, my personal experience of bilingualism has to do with minority language bilinguals: sometimes you are so busy focussing on a particular syntactic phenomenon that you might overlook the fact that the data you are working on is produced by a bilingual mind in which the minority language is “struggling against” a strong (standard) language.

As far as I can tell, sometimes it is pretty hard to tell whether certain changes are to be ascribed to the pressure of the strong standard or not. In fact, at the lexical level loanwords are something very easy to spot but at the grammatical level things are a little fuzzier.
 

Complete the sentence: speaking another language is...

pure joy.

I know I might sound corny but as an adult second language learner I have truly experienced joy when I first began being fluent in the two foreign languages I speak (even if at different levels of competence). As your L2 competence evolves it is as if you suddenly started seeing clear like when you put on your glasses: you can perceive details you were not even aware of before wearing the glasses.
 

What do you think is the most important issue in bilingualism research right now?

Hard to say. I guess the agenda could be filled of desiderata since bilingualism research per se is too vast a field. As for my less wide field I would say it is crucial to devise the right tools to test the particular bilinguals we have to deal with in order to arrive at a better understanding of the way(s) a strong (standard) language affects a minority language.
AThEME project leaflets available to download. 

 



Click on the image above or contact your national Bilingualism Matters branch.

Dissemination news

 

AThEME project logo

Each participating country (Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom) now has a branch of Bilingualism Matters, responsible for coordinating dissemination in that country. Find out more about your local branch and what they have been up to! 
 


All branches share a central aim: to raise awareness and promote evidence-based 
information about bilingualism and language learning across Europe. As the AThEME project develops, branches of Bilingualism Matters will be able to communicate the AThEME findings and policy recommendations in all sectors of European society.

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CROATIA  

AThEMEM dissemination event with Croatian stakeholders

Bilingualism Matters in Rijeka are continuing to promote and facilitate language learning among university students, and vulnerable groups such as children in care.

In June, the team organised a meeting with Croatian stakeholders in the project in order to exchange ideas and establish collaboration between academics, education, childcare, health and culture. The meeting included small group work and plenary discussions, with the aim of identifying challenges around multilingualism in Rijeka and surrounding areas, and working towards solutions.

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FRANCE  AThEME dissemination at la fête des langues, NantesThe AThEME funded branch of Bilingualism Matters opened in Nantes in February 2015. In June, they took part in La Fête des Langues, a celebration of linguistic diversity in Nantes, where they took the chance to create a short video introducing themselves (watch it here).

The team are currently busy preparing for the Generative Approaches to Language and Linguistics Conference, which will be hosted by University of Nantes in September 2015.
 
 
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GERMANY
  • Branch name: Zentrum für Mehrsprachigkeit/ Centre for Multilingualism
  • Hosted by: University of Konstanz
  • Website: Centre for Multilingualism
Dr. Svenja Kornher, Diversity Officer at the University of Konstanz and member of the Center for Multilingualism
At the start of 2015, the Centre for Multilingualism was awarded funding from the University of Konstanz for a two year knowledge transfer project on "Multilingualism in day care and in schools".

On October 16, 2015, the Centre will kick off this project with a one-day conference "Multilingualism in day care and in schools - new paths and new challenges". Internationally renowned multilingualism researchers such as Prof. Annick de Houwer, Prof. Inci Dirim, and Dr. Maarten Kossmann will present at this AThEME-event.
 
Further information with respect to the program and registration please visit their website (German language only).

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ITALY

AThEME team at University of TrentoThe dissemination team at Trento have been working in close partnership with colleagues at University of Verona in order to host a series of Knowledge Exchange events with language teachers, kindergarten teachers, health practitioners and the general public.

Events have ranged from addressing Attitudes about Multilingualism, to outlining the Linguistic Properties of Cimbrian, to discussing Multilingual;ism in the context of Specific language Impairment.
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NETHERLANDS

Guests at an event discussing minority languagesIn January 2015, the Amsterdam branch organised an event in which researchers joined writers and journalists as part of a panel discussion on the value of minority languages. 

The team are currently working flat out to make sure everything is in place for Drongo Festival - the Netherland's largest festival of languages, which takes place 25-25 September. AThEME is an official partner of the festival, and there will be information about AThEME available on the Taalstudio information stand. More information about the festival here.


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SLOVENIA

Presentation on benefits of multilingualism at University of Nova Gorica
The team at Slovenia are getting ready to celebrate the European Day of Languages on 26th September by hosting an event at a local high school. The event aims to encourage young people to value their own minority languages and to prioritize language learning as an important part of education.

Check out their website for some illuminating interviews with bilingual parents - for example, how passing on  language also involves passing on your own culture.
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SPAIN

Poster day hosted by Bilingual Mind Group at University of the Basque CountryAn ATHEME-funded branch of Bilingualism Matters opened in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain in March 2015. The launch event highlighted various apsects of multilingualism and gave stakeholders the chance to find out more about the AThEME project.

Staff are currently organising events for the coming academic year, in which they will also be involving researchers from the other Spanish universities taking part in AThEME.

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UNITED KINGDOM

AThEME event at National Museum of ScotlandAThEME staff at Edinburgh are getting ready to take part in Explorathon - a series of public engagement events across Scotland to celebrate European Researchers' Night on 25 September. AThEME researchers will be spending the afternoon at the National Museum of Scotland, speaking to members of the public about their research, asking them to identify languages and testing their executive function.

We are also very excited that the famous Language Show Live, held every autumn in London, will be coming to Scotland for the first time in spring 2016, and that your UK ATHEME team will be taking part! More details coming soon!

PhD-eye view: Researchers' Consortium 2015


How does it feel to be a small PhD student in a group of 50 international researchers? 



Michela Bonfieni, Catriona Gibb, Ellise Suffill

We are three PhD students at the University of Edinburgh researching multilingualism in Europe as part of the AThEME project. Michela looks at the reciprocal interactions between grammar and attention in bilingual speakers. Catriona studies the effects of using two languages during development, and in particular the impact of a dominant language such as English, on a minority one, such as Scottish Gaelic. Ellise looks at how bilingualism modulates the way we encode and communicate concepts in both language and thought. We are all fascinated by multilingualism and the questions it poses; our work looks for ways to answer some of these questions through empirical research. 

PhD students Ellise Suffil, Michela Bonfieni and Catríona Gibb

In May, we participated in the AThEME consortium meeting hosted by the University of Edinburgh. It was a special occasion, giving us the possibility to meet our partner AThEME researchers from across Europe, take a look at their work and discover the breadth and diversity of topics that AThEME covers. In research, your own topic necessarily becomes your theoretical world, and in order to make progress you need to immerse yourself and specialize in that one area. But it’s also really important to keep the bigger picture in mind.

researchers at the May 2015 AThEME consortium meetingThe consortium meeting gave us the chance to share ideas and tools with fellow researchers, and to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and underlying goals of AThEME. Our work mostly focusses on cognitive aspects of bilingualism – how language interacts with other mental processes. But AThEME as a whole also looks at linguistic and social aspects of bilingualism – for example, outlining the grammatical structure of regional variants, or interviewing migrant communities about attitudes to their language. By meeting with other AThEME researchers, we felt involved in a much bigger collaborative effort, and saw how our work communicates with the work of others on the project to maximise our understanding of multilingualism in Europe.

We were also excited to see that AThEME will allow us to bring the findings of our research outside academia and into the 'real world', where multilingualism raises questions around the way people live and organize their communities, their education and their work. We hope that as our empirical findings come in, we will be able to use AThEME’s dissemination network to make real impact on people’s lives – and changing people’s lives is surely at the top of every researcher’s wish list.

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