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Studying bilinguals: Methodological and conceptual issues



Because the field of bilingualism is still relatively new, studies in the linguistics, psycholinguistics, language development and neurolinguistics of bilingualism have often produced conflicting results. It will be argued in this paper that some of the difficulties encountered by researchers could have been lessened, if not avoided, had close attention been paid to methodological and conceptual issues. Among the issues covered are bilingual participants, language mode, stimuli, tasks as well as models of bilingual representation and processing. Each issue is dealt with in the following way: first it is explained, then the problems it causes are discussed, and, finally, tentative solutions are proposed. Examples are taken from descriptive and experimental studies of normal bilingual adults and children as well as bilinguals suffering from aphasia and dementia.


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Laboratoire de traitement du langage et de la parole, Université de Neuchâtel, Avenue du Premier-Mars 26, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland. E-mail:


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Some of the ideas expressed here were first proposed in a chapter that is part of A. M. B. de Groot & J. F. Kroll (eds.), Tutorials in bilingualism: Psycholinguistic perspectives, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Preparation of this paper was made possible in part by two grants from the Swiss National Science Foundation (1213-045375.95 and 3200-049106.96). The author would like to thank the paper's action editor, Judith Kroll, for her very helpful suggestions during the reviewing process. Special thanks go to the following for their comments on various aspects of the paper: Hugo Baetens Beardsmore, Dino Chincotta, Michael Clyne, Anne Cutler, Margaret Deuchar, David Green, Kees de Bot, Ton Dijkstra, James Flege, Karen Heck, Ruth Kearns, Nicolas Léwy, Ping Li, Brian MacWhinney, Lesley Milroy, Carol Myers-Scotton, Shana Poplack, Nanda Poulisse, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Jeanine Treffers-Daller and Jyotsna Vaid. Additional thanks go to Marc Grosjean for stimulating discussions on experimental methodology and modeling, as well as Jacqueline Gremaud-Brandhorst, Lysiane Grosjean, Isabelle Racine and Cornelia Tschichold for their careful reading of the manuscript. Requests for reprints can be sent to: François Grosjean, Laboratoire de traitement du langage et de la parole, Université de Neuchâtel, Avenue du Premier-Mars 26, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland.



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