National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) Evolving Language

Multilingualism in individuals
Project management:

Prof. Narly Golestani, UniGE

11.2020 to 05.2024
In progress

This exploratory project addresses the question of the origins of individual differences in language aptitude, at different levels of language processing including but not limited to native language phonological, lexical and syntactic processing. This question will be addressed across different levels of multilingual language experience (i.e. in monolinguals, bilinguals and polyglots), in line with the idea that extreme giftedness, healthy  variability and at least some disorders (e.g. dyslexia) can be mapped onto a continuum. We aim to identify the different factors that influence individual differences in language and related abilities by a systematic exploration of lower to higher-level language and related skills, both behaviourally and using brain imaging. We predict that multiple linguistic (e.g. grammatical sensitivity) and domain-general non-linguistic abilities (e.g. fine motor control, acoustic processing, complex sequence learning, processing speed) will explain individual differences in different aspects of language learning and use. We also aim to determine the relative contributions of experience-dependent plasticity and of predisposition to these individual differences, and this again at different levels of language processing (e.g. auditory vs phonetic segmentation skills).

This project is part of the ‘Variability’ project of the “Evolving Language” NCCR, where, using interdisciplinary approaches, research groups from the humanities (linguistics, philosophy), biology, neurosciences, psychology and computer sciences focus on dynamic changes in language structure and its evolution; on the biological prerequisites for language, including the related question of whether and how neurotechnologies could or should be used to influence language capabilities; and the social meaning of language and how it is likely to change with new means of communication.

The NCCR promises innovations and transfer services in medical fields (e.g. diagnosis and treatment of speech disorders) and in the application of digital instruments (human-machine communication, artificial intelligence, complex voice recognition).