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Slide Slam C6 Sandbox Series

New perspectives on the relationship between language aptitude, behaviour and the brain

Slide Slam Session C, Tuesday, October 5, 2021, 12:30 - 3:00 pm PDT Log In to set Timezone

Irene Balboni1,4, Alessandra Rampinini4, Olga Kepinska2,3,5, Josue Luiz Dalboni da Rocha4, Raphael Berthele1, Narly Golestani2,3,4,5; 1Institute of Multilingualism, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland, 2Brain and Language Lab, Cognitive Science Hub, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 3Department of Behavioral and Cognitive Biology, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria, 4Department of Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland, 5Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Language aptitude (LA) is traditionally defined as a set of individual cognitive skills predictive of success in foreign language attainment (Carroll & Sapon, 1959). From a linguistic perspective, gifted language learners seem highly skilled in sound-symbol associations, rote learning, and/or grammar analytic abilities. Neural markers of LA (or its subcomponents) have also been found: differences in brain morphology, functionality and neural efficiency have been linked to different levels of LA-related abilities (e.g. phoneme categorization, foreign speech production, language analytic abilities) and to the number of language spoken (Golestani, 2014; Golestani et al., 2011; Golestani & Pallier, 2007; Hervais-Adelman et al., 2018; Jouravlev et al., 2021; Kepinska et al., 2017; Reiterer, 2018; Turker et al., 2017). Not surprisingly these differences are observed in areas within the traditional language network. However, it has recently been argued that LA might rely on working memory or other domain-general cognitive processes (Wen et al., 2017), and the question of the relationship between LA and other domains of cognition remains open. The present work aims at framing LA into a comprehensive and multidimensional view, by investigating individual differences in its behavioural and neural markers in a sample representing the whole spectrum of LA. To this end, we will test around 150 monolinguals, multilinguals, (hyper)polyglots, and dyslexic readers through questionnaires, a behavioural test battery and magnetic resonance imaging. Language experience (in each of the languages spoken) and musical literacy will be assessed through questionnaires. Then, we will administer a battery of online and behavioural tests to measure phonological and symbolic association skills, vocabulary learning and morphosyntactic analysis, as well as fluid intelligence, attention, inhibition, arithmetic, musicality, fine motor and auditory perceptual skills. Furthermore, memory tasks will be included to assess visuo-spatial, procedural, declarative, and verbal working memory. Following behavioural testing, we will obtain structural, resting state and functional MRI scans. Behavioural measure aggregation will be performed through Factor Analysis, Structural Equation Modelling and Dimensionality Reduction techniques. This will likely reveal relationships between the various subcomponents of linguistic skill, general and domain-specific cognition, and their contribution to an extended model of LA. Moreover, we expect to observe individual differences in brain morphology, structural covariance and functional connectivity across-subjects, and in relationship with behavioural performance. Our analyses will focus on, but not be limited to, brain function, structure and connectivity within the main language hubs: the superior temporal, inferior frontal and parietal cortices. As a main outcome, we expect behavioural data to reveal the broader nature of language aptitude, outside a strictly linguistic domain. Moreover, it is possible to outline specific outcomes within our broader investigation: in replication of previous studies, we expect the morphology of the auditory and parietal cortical areas to be linked to phonological abilities, and to observe different functional connectivity profiles in relation to grammar analytic abilities. Finally, anatomical, functional and connectivity differences between elective and non-elective multilinguals, if observed, are likely to indicate relative influences of predisposition versus of experience-dependent plasticity, respectively, in language learning (Ressel et al., 2012).

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