Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-8tfrx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-28T04:07:03.842Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

How does childhood bilingualism and bi-dialectalism affect the interpretation and processing of pragmatic meanings?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2019

Kyriakos Antoniou*
University of Cyprus, Center for Applied Neuroscience Hellenic Open University, School of Humanities
Alma Veenstra
Université libre de Bruxelles, Center for Research in Linguistics LaDisco University of Cambridge, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics
Mikhail Kissine
Université libre de Bruxelles, Center for Research in Linguistics LaDisco
Napoleon Katsos
University of Cambridge, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics
Address for correspondence: Kyriakos Antoniou, E-mail:


Recent research has reported superior socio-communicative skills in bilingual children. We examined the hypothesis of a bilingual pragmatic advantage by testing bilingual, bi-dialectal and monolingual children on the comprehension and processing of various pragmatic meanings: relevance, scalar, contrastive, manner implicatures, novel metaphors and irony. Pragmatic responses were slower than literal responses to control items. Furthermore, children were least accurate with metaphors and irony. Metaphors and irony were also the most difficult to process; for these meanings, pragmatic responses were slower than literal responses to the same critical items. Finally, pragmatic performance positively correlated with working memory. Despite this variation, we found no bilingual or bi-dialectal advantage over monolinguals in pragmatic responses or speed of pragmatic processing. This was also true despite bilinguals’ and bi-dialectals’ lower vocabularies as measured by formal tests. We conclude that bilingual children exhibit monolingual-like pragmatic interpretation, despite their often-reported weaker language knowledge in the target language.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Andrés-Roqueta, C and Katsos, N (2017). The Contribution of Grammar, Vocabulary and Theory of Mind in Pragmatic Language Competence in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Frontiers in psychology 8, 996.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Antoniou, K (in press). Multilingual pragmatics: Implicature comprehension in adult L2 learners and multilingual children. In Taguchi, N (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Pragmatics and Second Language Acquisition. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Antoniou, K, Cummins, C and Katsos, N (2016) Why only some adults reject under-informative utterances. Journal of Pragmatics 99, 7895.10.1016/j.pragma.2016.05.001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Antoniou, K, Grohmann, K, Kambanaros, M and Katsos, N (2016) The effect of childhood bilectalism and multilingualism on executive control. Cognition 149, 1830.10.1016/j.cognition.2015.12.002CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Antoniou, K and Katsos, N (2017) The effect of childhood multilingualism and bilectalism on implicature understanding. Applied Psycholinguistics 38, 787833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Apperly, IA, Riggs, KJ, Simpson, A, Chiavarino, C and Samson, D (2006) Is belief reasoning automatic? Psychological Science 17, 841844.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Barac, R, Bialystok, E, Castro, DC and Sanchez, M (2014) The cognitive development of young dual language learners: A critical review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. ScholarPubMed
Barr, DJ, Levy, R, Scheepers, C and Tily, HJ (2013) Random effects structure for confirmatory hypothesis testing: Keep it maximal. Journal of Memory and Language 68, 255278.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bates, D, Maechler, M, Bolker, B and Walker, S (2015) Fitting Linear Mixed-Effects Models Using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software 67, 148.10.18637/jss.v067.i01CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bialystok, E (2017) The bilingual adaptation: How minds accommodate experience. Psychological bulletin 143, 233.10.1037/bul0000099CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bialystok, E, Luk, G, Peets, KF and Yang, S (2010) Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 13, 525531.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Blom, E, Boerma, T, Bosma, E, Cornips, L and Everaert, E (2017) Cognitive advantages of bilingual children in different sociolinguistic contexts. Frontiers in Psychology 8, 552.10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00552CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Boyce, W, Torsheim, T, Currie, C and Zambon, A (2006) The family affluence scale as a measure of national wealth: validation of an adolescent self-report measure. Social indicators research 78, 473487.10.1007/s11205-005-1607-6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bolker, BM, Brooks, ME, Clark, CJ, Geange, SW, Poulsen, JR, Stevens, MHH and White, JSS (2009) Generalized linear mixed models: a practical guide for ecology and evolution. Trends in ecology & evolution 24, 127135.10.1016/j.tree.2008.10.008CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bott, L and Noveck, IA (2004) Some utterances are underinformative: The onset and time course of scalar inferences. Journal of memory and language 51, 437457.10.1016/j.jml.2004.05.006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Breheny, R (2006) Communication and folk psychology. Mind & Language 21(1), 74107.10.1111/j.1468-0017.2006.00307.xCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Breheny, R, Ferguson, HJ and Katsos, N (2013) Taking the epistemic step: Toward a model of on-line access to conversational implicatures. Cognition 126, 423440.10.1016/j.cognition.2012.11.012CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Breheny, R, Katsos, N and Williams, J (2006) Are generalised scalar implicatures generated by default? An on-line investigation into the role of context in generating pragmatic inferences. Cognition 100, 434463.10.1016/j.cognition.2005.07.003CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Carlson, SM (2003) Executive function in context: Development, measurement, theory, and experience. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 68, 138151.10.1111/j.1540-5834.2003.06803012.xCrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Carlson, SM and Meltzoff, AN (2008) Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental science 11, 282298.10.1111/j.1467-7687.2008.00675.xCrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Chiappe, DL and Chiappe, P (2007) The role of working memory in metaphor production and comprehension. Journal of Memory and Language 56, 172188.10.1016/j.jml.2006.11.006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clahsen, H and Felser, C (2006a) Continuity and shallow structures in language processing. Applied Psycholinguistics 27, 107126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clahsen, H and Felser, C (2006b) How native-like is non-native language processing? Trends in Cognitive Science 10, 564570.10.1016/j.tics.2006.10.002CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cohen, J (1988) Statistical power analysis for the behavioural sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Costa, A and Sebastián-Gallés, N (2014) How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain? Nature Reviews. Neuroscience 15, 336.Google Scholar
De Neys, W and Schaeken, W (2007) When people are more logical under cognitive load: dual task impact on scalar implicature. Experimental Psychology 54, 128–33.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Deliens, G, Antoniou, K, Clin, E, Ostashchenko, E and Kissine, M (2018) Context, facial expression and prosody in irony processing. Journal of Memory and Language 99, 3548.10.1016/j.jml.2017.10.001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dong, Y and Li, P (2015) The cognitive science of bilingualism. Language and Linguistics Compass 9, 113.10.1111/lnc3.12099CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dunn, LM, Dunn, LM and Schlichting, JEPT (2005) Peabody picture vocabulary test-III-NL. Harcourt Test Publishers.Google Scholar
Ellefson, MR, Shapiro, LR and Chater, N (2006) Asymmetrical switch costs in children. Cognitive Development 21, 108130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Faul, F, Erdfelder, E, Lang, A-G and Buchner, A (2007) G*Power 3: A flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods 39, 175191.10.3758/BF03193146CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Filippova, E (2014) Irony production and understanding. In Matthews, D (ed.), Pragmatic Development in First Language Acquisition, pp. 261278. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
Foucart, A, Garcia, X, Ayguasanosa, M, Thierry, G, Martin, C and Costa, A (2015) Does the speaker matter? Online processing of semantic and pragmatic information in L2 speech comprehension. Neuropsychologia 75, 291303.10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.06.027CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Garraffa, M, Beveridge, M and Sorace, A (2015) Linguistic and Cognitive Skills in Sardinian–Italian Bilingual Children. Frontiers in Psychology 6, 1898.10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01898CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Giora, R, Givoni, S and Fein, O (2015) Defaultness reigns: The case of sarcasm. Metaphor and Symbol 30, 29031310.1080/10926488.2015.1074804CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Green, DW and Abutalebi, J (2013) Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology 25, 515530.10.1080/20445911.2013.796377CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Grice, HP (1989) Studies in the Way of Words. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Grodner, D and Sedivy, J (2011) The effects of speaker-specific information on pragmatic inferences. In Pearlmutter, N & Gibson, E. (Eds.), The processing and acquisition of reference. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Grohmann, KK and Kambanaros, M (2016) The Gradience of Multilingualism in Typical and Impaired Language Development: Positioning Bilectalism within Comparative Bilingualism. Frontiers in Psychology 7, 37.10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00037CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hammer, CS, Hoff, E, Uchikoshi, Y, Gillanders, C, Castro, DC and Sandilos, LE (2014) The language and literacy development of young dual language learners: A critical review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 29, 715733.10.1016/j.ecresq.2014.05.008CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Horn, LR (1972) On the Semantic Properties of Logical Operators in English. Doctoral dissertation, University of California, LAGoogle Scholar
Hothorn, T, Bretz, F, Westfall, P, Heiberger, RM, Schuetzenmeister, A, Scheibe, S and Hothorn, MT (2016) Package ‘multcomp’. Simultaneous inference in general parametric models. Project for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.Google Scholar
Huang, Y and Snedeker, J (2009a) On-line interpretation of scalar quantifiers: insight into the semantics-pragmatics interface. Cognitive Psychology 58, 376415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huang, YT and Snedeker, J (2009b) Semantic meaning and pragmatic interpretation in 5-year-olds: Evidence from real-time spoken language comprehension. Developmental psychology 45, 1723.10.1037/a0016704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Katsos, N, Cummins, C, Ezeizabarrena, MJ, Gavarró, A, Kraljević, JK, Hrzica, G, Grohmann, KK, Skordi, A, de López, KJ, Sundahl, L, van Hout, A, Hollebrandse, B, Overweg, J, Faber, M, van Koert, M, Smith, N, Vija, M, Zupping, S, Kunnari, S, Morisseau, T, Rusieshvili, M, Yatsushiro, K, Fengler, A, Varlokosta, S, Konstantzou, K, Farby, S, Guasti, MT, Vernice, M, Okabe, R, Isobe, M, Crosthwaite, P, Hong, Y, Balčiūnienė, I, Nizar, YMA, Grech, H, Gatt, D, Cheong, WN, Asbjørnsen, A, von Koss Torkildsen, J, Haman, E, Miękisz, A, Gagarina, N, Puzanova, J, Anđelković, D, Savić, M, Jošić, S, Slanćová, D, Kapalková, S, Barberán, T and Özge, D (2016) Cross-linguistic patterns in the acquisition of quantifiers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, 92449249.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Katsos, N, Roqueta, CA, Estevan, RAC and Cummins, C (2011) Are children with Specific Language Impairment competent with the pragmatics and logic of quantification?. Cognition 119, 4357.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kecskes, I (2015) How does pragmatic competence develop in bilinguals?. International Journal of Multilingualism 12, 419434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kort, W, Schittekatte, M and Compaan, E (2008) CELF-4-NL: Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-vierde-editie. Amsterdam: Pearson Assessment and Information B.V.Google Scholar
Kowatch, K, Whalen, JM and Pexman, PM (2013) Irony comprehension in action: A new test of processing for verbal irony. Discourse Processes 50, 301315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kirk, NW, Fiala, L, Scott-Brown, KC and Kempe, V (2014) No evidence for reduced Simon cost in elderly bilinguals and bidialectals. Journal of Cognitive Psychology 26, 640648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kissine, M (2013) From utterances to speech acts. Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511842191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kissine, M (2016) Pragmatics as metacognitive control. Frontiers in psychology 6, 2057.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kronmüller, E, Morisseau, T and Noveck, IA (2014) Show me the pragmatic contribution: a developmental investigation of contrastive inference. Journal of child language 41, 9851014.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Levinson, SC (2016) Turn-taking in human communication–origins and implications for language processing. Trends in cognitive sciences 20, 614.10.1016/j.tics.2015.10.010CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Levinson, SC (2000) Presumptive meanings: The theory of generalized conversational implicature. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.10.7551/mitpress/5526.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Liberman, Z, Woodward, AL, Keysar, B and Kinzler, KD (2017) Exposure to multiple languages enhances communication skills in infancy. Developmental science 20.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lin, S, Keysar, B and Epley, N (2010) Reflexively mindblind: using theory of mind to interpret behavior requires effortful attention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46, 551556.10.1016/j.jesp.2009.12.019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marty, PP and Chemla, E (2013) Scalar implicatures: working memory and a comparison with only. Frontiers in Psychology 4, 403. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marty, P, Chemla, E and Spector, B (2013) Interpreting numerals and scalar items under memory load. Lingua 133, 152163.10.1016/j.lingua.2013.03.006CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mashal, N (2013) The role of working memory in the comprehension of unfamiliar and familiar metaphors. Language and Cognition 5, 409436.10.1515/langcog-2013-0024CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miyake, A, Friedman, NP, Emerson, MJ, Witzki, AH, Howerter, A and Wager, TD (2000) The unity and diversity of executive functions and their contributions to complex “frontal lobe” tasks: A latent variable analysis. Cognitive psychology 41, 49100.10.1006/cogp.1999.0734CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mueller, ST and Piper, BJ (2014) The Psychology Experiment Building Language (PEBL) and PEBL test battery. Journal of Neuroscience Methods 222, 250259.10.1016/j.jneumeth.2013.10.024CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Paap, KR, Johnson, HA and Sawi, O (2015) Bilingual advantages in executive functioning either do not exist or are restricted to very specific and undetermined circumstances. Cortex 69, 265278.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Paradis, J (2011) Individual differences in child English second language acquisition: Comparing child-internal and child-external factors. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 1, 213237.10.1075/lab.1.3.01parCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Paradis, J, Emmerzael, K and Duncan, TS (2010) Assessment of English language learners: Using parent report on first language development. Journal of communication disorders 43, 474497.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Prince, EF (1982) Grice and universality: A reappraisal. Ms., University of Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
Psychology Software Tools, Inc. [E-Prime 2.0]. (2012) Retrieved from Scholar
Recanati, F (2002) Does linguistic communication rest on inference?. Mind & Language 17, 105126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roberts, L and Felser, C (2011) Plausibility and recovery from garden paths in second language sentence processing. Applied Psycholinguistics 32, 299331.10.1017/S0142716410000421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roberts, L, Gullberg, M and Indefrey, P (2008) Online pronoun resolution in L2 dis- course. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 30, 333357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ross, J and Melinger, A (2017) Bilingual advantage, bidialectal advantage or neither? Comparing performance across three tests of executive function in middle childhood. Developmental science 20.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
RStudio Team (2016) RStudio: Integrated Development for R. RStudio, Inc., Boston, MA URL Scholar
Rubio-Fernandez, P (2007) Suppression in metaphor interpretation: differences between meaning selection and meaning construction. Journal of Semantics 24, 345371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rueda, MR, Fan, J, McCandliss, BD, Halparin, JD, Gruber, DB, Lercari, LP and Posner, MI (2004) Development of attentional networks in childhood. Neuropsychologia 42, 10291040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rushton, JP, Brainerd, CJ and Pressley, M (1983) Behavioral development and construct validity: The principle of aggregation. Psychological bulletin 94, 18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schneider, D, Lam, R, Bayliss, A.P. and Dux, PE (2012) Cognitive load disrupts implicit theory-of-mind processing. Psychological Science 23, 842847.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Semel, EM, Wiig, EH, Secord, WA and Kort, W (2008) CELF® 4 NL: Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals: Nederlandse versie. Pearson.Google Scholar
Siegal, M, Iozzi, L and Surian, L (2009) Bilingualism and conversational understanding in young children. Cognition 110, 115122.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Siegal, M, Matsuo, A, Pond, C and Otsu, Y (2007) Bilingualism and cognitive development: Evidence from scalar implicatures Proceedings of the Eighth Tokyo Conference on Psycholinguistics, pp. 265–280. Tokyo, Japan: Hituzi Syobo.Google Scholar
Siegal, M and Surian, L (2007) Conversational understanding in young children. In Hoff, E. & Shatz, M. (Eds.), Blackwell handbook of language development, pp. 304323. Oxford: Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Siegal, M, Surian, L, Matsuo, A, Geraci, A, Iozzi, L, Okumura, Y and Itakura, S (2010) Bilingualism Accentuates Children's Conversational Understanding. PLoS ONE 5(2): e9004. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009004CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Slabakova, R (2010) Scalar implicatures in second language acquisition. Lingua 120, 24442462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sperber, D and Wilson, D (1986/1995). Relevance: Communication and cognition. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Sperber, D and Wilson, D (2002) Pragmatics, modularity and mind-reading. Mind & Language 17, 323.10.1111/1468-0017.00186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spotorno, N and Noveck, IA (2014) When is irony effortful? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143, 1649.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Stivers, T, Enfield, NJ, Brown, P, Englert, C, Hayashi, M, Heinemann, T, Hoymann, G, Rossano, F, de Ruiter, JP, Yoon, KE and Levinson, SC (2009) Universals and cultural variation in turn-taking in conversation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 1058710592.10.1073/pnas.0903616106CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Syrett, K, Austin, J, Sanchez, L, Germak, C, Lingwall, A, Perez-Cortes, S, Arias-Amaya, A and Baker, H (2016) The influence of conversational context and the developing lexicon on the calculation of scalar implicatures. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 7, 230264.10.1075/lab.14019.syrCrossRefGoogle Scholar
Syrett, K, Lingwall, A, Perez-Cortes, S, Austin, J, Sánchez, L, Baker, H, Germak, C and Arias-Amaya, A (2017) Differences between Spanish monolingual and Spanish-English bilingual children in their calculation of entailment-based scalar implicatures. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 2.Google Scholar
Thordardottir, E (2011) The relationship between bilingual exposure and vocabulary development. International Journal of Bilingualism 15, 426445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomasello, M (2008) Origins of Human Communication. MIT Press.10.7551/mitpress/7551.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Veenstra, A, Antoniou, K, Katsos, N and Kissine, M (2018) Resisting attraction: Individual differences in executive control are associated with subject-verb agreement errors in production. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Waggoner, JE and Palermo, DS (1989) Betty is a bouncing bubble: Children's comprehension of emotion-descriptive metaphors. Developmental psychology 25, 152.10.1037/0012-1649.25.1.152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wilson, D and Sperber, D (2003) Relevance theory. In: Ward, G. & Horn, L (Eds.). Handbook of Pragmatics, pp. 607632. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Sci.Google Scholar
Yow, WQ and Markman, EM (2011) Bilingualism and children's use of paralinguistic cues to interpret emotion in speech. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 14, 562569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Yow, WQ and Markman, EM (2015) A bilingual advantage in how children integrate multiple cues to understand a speaker's referential intent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 18, 391399.10.1017/S1366728914000133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Antoniou et al. supplementary material

Appendices SA-SB

Download Antoniou et al. supplementary material(PDF)
PDF 570 KB