The Bilingual Brain

A new book by Albert Costa. A paragraph to ponder from Adrian Woolfson’s review:

“Intriguingly, bilingualism appears to slow the rate of progression of Alzheimer’s and can delay the age of dementia onset by up to four years. Nevertheless the benefits of being bilingual may be offset in some individuals by a relative impairment in select areas of linguistic competence. Bilinguals appear to have less efficient access to their lexicon than monolinguals, resulting in more “tip-of-the-tongue” episodes. Bilinguals may also, on average, have smaller vocabularies in both languages. Most provocative, however, is the question of whether bilingualism may modify features of our mental fabric, including those that define our psychology and individuality. Might bilingualism influence our personality, or even our moral systems? Evidence presented by Costa suggests that bilinguals are less egocentric than monolinguals, show more empathy and develop a ‘theory of mind’—as witnessed by their ability to put themselves in the shoes of others—at an earlier age.”

My monolingualism is legion. Nearly two decades ago, our family lived in Chengdu, China for a semester. One day, my mean 5 and 8 year old daughters staged an intervention, forcing me to tell them “how many words I knew in Chinese”. Despite being a grown ass man and it being my third China experience, their vocabulary dwarfed mine. My mostly autobiographical companion book is tentatively titled “The Monolingual Pea Brain”.

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