Multilingualism and lifespan

Project management

Bruno Moretti, Iwar Werlen (Universität Bern), Didier Maillat (Université de Fribourg),  Marianne Gullberg (Max Planck Institut für Psycholinguistik)

01.2010 - 12.2013
Cognition, Competences

Sinergia-Project of the Swiss National Science Foundation, no. 130457

This project examines dimensions of multilingualism that have heretofore received little attention in research. The question at the core of the project concerns how the areas of competence necessary for learning and using more than one language change and develop over the course of an individual’s lifetime. The linguistic areas considered incorporate the multifaceted nature of language acquisition and use, and cover the following themes:

  • Psycholinguistic processes in the first minutes of an individual’s initial confrontation with a typologically very dissimilar language;
  • Pragmatic processes (inferences) in a foreign language/second language;
  • Potential of multilingual repertories when attempting to access unfamiliar texts in a foreign language via typologically similar languages;
  • Sociolinguistic aspects concerning major biographical disruptions in a person’s education or professional life.

These focal areas are not examined as separate elements; the project instead adopts an integrative approach regarding both the premises about multilingual competence as well as how data and results are exchanged within the project. All sub-areas in the Sinergia-Project share key premises, with the first core area of interest being the resources (linguistic, cognitive, pragmatic and social) involved in the dynamic development of multilingualism in an individual repertoire over the course of a lifetime. All sub-projects inquire into how these resources and the utilization thereof change over the course of an individual’s life. In addition, all projects consider partial (in part, highly partial) competence in foreign languages and not so-called “perfectly” bilingual or multilingual individuals. The overall project aims to establish a comprehensive view that specifically includes the lifespan of adults. The precondition for realising this goal is close collaboration amongst the project’s partners, a principle idea within all Sinergia projects. Careful coordination of all independent variables and the development of a common data pool provide the basis for systematically investigating the project’s focal interests in multilingual competence and for establishing correlations – aside from the core variable “age” – between the sub-projects.

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