Childhood Bilingualism: Aspects of Linguistic, Cognitive, and Social Development

By Peter Homel; Michael Palij et al. | Go to book overview

7
The Relationship of Bilingualism to Cognitive Development: Historical, Methodological and Theoretical Considerations

Michael Palij1 State University of New York at Stony Brook

Peter Homel New York University

The ability to know and to use two or more languages fluently and appropriately reflects the remarkable functioning of a cognitive system that maintains separation among the languages being used while at the same time allows free and easy interchange among them. The perplexing complexity of bilingual cognitive functioning is belied by the apparent ease of performance that is manifested by the proficient bilingual. Much basic research still remains to be done before we understand how bilingual cognition operates but there are signs that more and more researchers are being attracted to this area. In contrast, within the related area of how children become bilingual and whether bilingualism has any particular effect on cognitive development, there has been much research and discussion though not complete agreement on the findings. In this chapter we examine this research from three perspectives: first, a historical examination of the issues, highlighting the dramatic changes that have occurred in the past 20 years; second, an examination of methodological issues involved and how they relate to the claims that have been made; third, what role theory has played in guiding research and what role it may play in the future.


A HISTORICAL VIEW

The view that is usually presented of bilingualism and its effect on cognitive development or intellectual functioning in many textbooks and reference works

____________________
1
Presently affiliated with the Child Psychopharmacology Unit, Department of Psychiatry, New York University Medical Center

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