Rebecca A. Marks, Teresa Satterﬁeld and
In this chapter, we harness brain development for bilingual reading
to understand the impact of bilingualism on neural representations
of language. The Integrated Multilingual Model (IMM) views the
individual bilingual – or monolingual, for that matter – as possessing
a single linguistic system with numerous shared grammatical resources
(subsystems) as well as language-speciﬁc properties (MacSwan, 2017).
We examine this proposal in the context of bilingual children’s literacy.
Learning to read builds on a child’s existing neural systems
for language processing (Dehaene, 2004) as well as their linguistic
knowledge. Linguistic knowledge naturally varies based on children’s
experiences with different types of languages. This variation is further
reinforced by reading experiences as orthographies often accentuate
the salient characteristics of their underlying languages (Frost, 2012;
Seidenberg, 2012). Bilingual literacy acquisition thus allows us to test the
development of language-speciﬁc mechanisms, as well as interaction and
transfer between a child’s two languages.
The critical question we address is whether bilingual children develop
differentiated (language-speciﬁc) reading processes at the same time that
they develop an integrated literacy system, or whether the shared system
develops ﬁrst and becomes differentiated over time. In either scenario,
the challenge facing bilingual learners is to develop certain language-
speciﬁc reading skills, as well as the neural pathways to support them,
within the general system.
Because literacy builds on spoken language, we begin this chapter
by reviewing the evidence for both shared and language-speciﬁc
representations of spoken language in the bilingual brain. We will then
Marks, R. A., Satterfield, T., & Kovelman, I. (2022). Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual
Reading Development. In J. MacSwan (Ed.),
(pp. 201–224). Multilingual Matters, Bristol, UK. https://doi.org/10.21832/9781800415690-010
Multilingual Perspectives on Translanguaging
202 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
turn to the issue of how bilinguals develop discrete, language-speciﬁc
subsystems for single word reading in each of their languages, and
how these subsystems may interact. Finally, we will examine research
ﬁndings on bilingual dyslexia. To conclude we offer a developmental
model of bilingual word reading that reveals universal and language-
speciﬁc mechanisms for learning to read, as well as their crosslinguistic
interaction in the bilingual learner.
Language-speciﬁc Representations in the Bilingual Brain
There is substantial variation in the linguistic structure, or grammar,
of natural human languages. Numerous theoretical accounts articulate
how linguistic variation results from language-speciﬁc and cognitive-
general computational mechanisms (Satterﬁeld, 2003; Satterﬁeld &
Barrett, 2004; Satterﬁeld & Saleemi, 2009; Yang et al., 2017). How is this
linguistic variation organized in the bilingual mind?
A bilingual is not the sum of two monolinguals, but rather ‘an
integrated whole with a unique linguistic proﬁle’ (Grosjean, 1989: 4).
Cook (1991) frames bilingual language representation as a continuum
of compounded knowledge in multilingual adult grammars, known
as ‘Multicompetence.’ Implementing computational parameter-setting
models that account for syntactic variation across both bilingual and
monolingual children, Satterﬁeld’s genetic algorithms provide evidence
of potential multilingualism inherent in all developing grammatical
systems (1999a, 1999b, 2002). Universal Bilingualism (Roeper, 1999) and
Multiple Grammar Theory (Amaral & Roeper, 2014) offer an in-depth
syntactic analysis with empirical data of a ‘narrow bilingualism’
for monolingual speakers in this same vein. The IMM proposed by
MacSwan (2017) is compatible with all such previous theoretical
frameworks and argues that the linguistic knowledge of the bilingual
is represented as a part of a collective system for the processing of the
two languages. This collective system is internally differentiated into
subsystems that organize variations of structures of the two languages’
respective grammars. How, then, do these subsystems emerge?
Genesee (Chapter 7, this volume) describes how early and systematic
bilingual exposure yields relatively parallel acquisition of each of the
bilingual child’s languages. Young children consistently exposed to
two languages develop phonological, lexical and morphosyntactic
representations that reﬂect each of their languages. For instance, while
word learning in monolingual children is governed in part by an assumption
of mutual exclusivity, simultaneous bilingual children acquire translation
equivalents (e.g. ‘dog’ in English and ‘perro’ in Spanish) across their
two languages early on (e.g. Bosch & Ramon-Casas, 2014; De Houwer
et al., 2006; Holowka et al., 2002). Additional ﬁndings show independent
trajectories for the acquisition of ﬁnite verb morphology in French-English
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 203
bilinguals (Paradis & Genesee, 1996). Furthermore, when competent
bilinguals combine their two languages in one utterance, the resulting
codeswitch structure is principled and rule governed. Young children
likewise rely on features and grammatical structures from their dominant
language to bolster their non-dominant language, thereby bridging their
developing linguistic resources to express themselves (Lanvers, 2001).
Similar to bilingual adult codeswitching (e.g. MacSwan, 1999), children’s
codeswitching is shown to be socioculturally and linguistically constrained
(Genesee & Nicoladis, 2007). In sum, both theoretical conceptualizations
and empirical data on bilingual adults and young bilingual learners suggest
that differentiation occurs within a ﬂexibly integrated system.
The most dramatic evidence of differentiated language systems in the
bilingual brain has historically come from lesion patients who suffered
asymmetric disruptions to their two languages. A classic case reported
by Gómez-Tortosa and colleagues (Gómez-Tortosa et al., 1995) describes
a bilingual patient who experienced signiﬁcant naming difﬁculties in L1
Spanish following neural damage and removal of a key language region,
but relatively little disruption when speaking L2 English. This evidence
suggested that differentiated neural circuits were responsible for her two
languages (Gómez-Tortosa et al., 1995). However, bilingual language loss
rarely affects one language exclusively and leaves the other untouched.
In an analysis of 19 Spanish–English bilinguals with aphasia following a
stroke, the majority of patients lost the same amount of language skill in
both English and Spanish (Gray & Kiran, 2013). In other words, patients
with similar English and Spanish abilities before their stroke also had
similar difﬁculties post-stroke, while patients who reported greater ability
in one language maintained similar language dominance post-stroke. Just
over a third of patients demonstrated greater loss in one language than
the other. Interestingly, these patients most commonly reported different
levels of pre-stroke Spanish and English skill but demonstrated similar
comprehension and expressive abilities in each language after their stroke.
These ﬁndings may point to shared neural substrates in the bilingual
brain, as the same underlying neural deﬁcit similarly affected both
comprehension and expression in each language.
While dramatic cases of aphasia provide preliminary insight into the
neural representations of two languages, recent advances in neuroscience
have allowed for precise experimental manipulations of language
processing in healthy adults. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
is one such method that allows for experimental disruption of online
language processing. TMS applies a safe electromagnetic pulse to the
skull to disrupt neuronal activity, inducing a temporary deﬁcit. If two
languages are processed identically in the bilingual brain, then applying
204 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
a transcranial magnetic pulse should logically incur similar disruptions
in both languages. A recent TMS study investigated proﬁcient Finnish-
Swedish adult bilinguals who acquired both languages early in life and used
the two languages on a daily basis (Hämäläinen et al., 2018). Participants
were asked to name pictures of common objects in Finnish and Swedish
while a TMS pulse was applied to the left posterior inferior frontal gyrus, a
region critical to word production. Although the TMS pulse incurred delays
in picture naming in both languages, this delay was signiﬁcantly greater in
Finnish than in Swedish. This evidence suggests that it may be possible to
produce language-speciﬁc disruption of bilinguals’ neural circuitry.
We refer to bilingual language organization in the brain as ‘neural
circuitry’ rather than ‘localization’ because it is unclear if bilinguals’
two languages actually occupy two distinct neural substrates. There is
increasing evidence for a universal network for monolingual language
processing across diverse languages and orthographies (Rueckl et al.,
2015). Similarly, it is likely that much of the bilinguals’ language
processing is highly co-localized, as part of an integrated system. For
instance, in ﬂuent Chinese-English readers, local peaks of brain activity
during English and Chinese semantic processing overlap, suggesting that
the same regions are involved in processing the two languages (Chee
et al., 1999). Bilinguals may also recruit additional cortical regions
when processing languages of lower proﬁciency (Wartenburger et al.,
2003), automaticity (Perani & Abutalebi, 2005), and salience of speciﬁc
linguistic units (Kovelman et al., 2008).
How might co-localization be compatible with language-speciﬁc
processes? Current research suggests that within a shared brain region,
the same population of neurons may respond differently to the demands
of each language. Recent methodological advances in multivariate pattern
analysis (MVPA) allow scholars to identify subtle differences in patterns
of neural activity within a single brain region across cognitive tasks.
MVPA may thus illuminate how language-speciﬁc processes might occur
within the same region of the brain. In a recent neuroimaging study of
bilingual adults, Xu and colleagues (Xu et al., 2017) found substantial
overlap between the cortical regions activated for Chinese and English
word reading. However, within these key regions, MVPA identiﬁed clusters
of neurons with distinct response patterns for the two languages. In other
words, ﬁne-grained pattern analysis reveals that the same brain regions can
respond differently when presented with Language A versus Language B.
Language-speciﬁcity in bilingual development
How might differences in the underlying linguistic structure of a
bilingual’s two languages inﬂuence the development of language-speciﬁc
neural representations? We addressed this question by tapping into
crosslinguistic differences in sentence processing in English and Spanish.
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 205
In particular, English listeners are highly attuned to word order, as
sentences have few morphological markers to indicate the subject and
the object. In contrast, in a language with rich morphosyntactic marking
like Spanish, listeners are less sensitive to word order variations and
they attend more evenly to various syntactic features of the sentence
(Hernández et al., 1994). In our research, we asked Spanish-English
bilingual adults to listen to sentences in both Spanish and English that
contained object-relative (OR) pronouns (e.g. ‘The juice that the child
spilled stained the rug’) or the subject-relative (SR) pronoun (e.g. ‘The
child spilled the juice that stained the rug’). In English, the bilinguals
showed slower processing time and greater neural activity during the SR
relative to the OR sentences, as has been previously shown by numerous
studies with these sentences in English, but they did not demonstrate these
differences in Spanish. The ﬁndings suggest that early and systematic
bilingual language exposure leads to language-speciﬁc organization and
processing of the bilinguals’ two languages (Kovelman et al., 2008).
We u se d a s im il a r a pp ro a ch t o ex a mi n e l an g ua ge - sp e ci ﬁ c r ep re s en -
tations in young Chinese–English bilingual children by examining
morphological processing (Ip et al., 2016). This focus was motivated by the
larger question of bilingual reading acquisition, for which lexical processes
are a critical component (Goodwin et al., 2013). Importantly, lexical
morphology in Chinese relies on compounding (e.g. bedroom–classroom,
snowman–ﬁreman), while English relies more heavily on derivation
(e.g. kind–unkind–kindly–kindness). To uncover whether these language-
speciﬁc differences in word structure inﬂuenced morphological processing,
we asked young Chinese-English bilinguals to complete a morphological
decision task during which they heard new morphologically constructed
words (e.g. snow-pig, re-jump) and judged if those words were acceptable
in each of their respective languages (for more detail, see Ip et al., 2016).
In English and in Chinese, the bilinguals showed signiﬁcant activation in
the middle temporal gyrus (MTG) and ventral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG)
regions classically associated with lexico-semantic processing. However,
participants also showed signiﬁcant activation in the dorsal left IFG during
English processing only, likely due to the more abstract computational
demands of derived morphemes. We observed this increased IFG
activation in monolingual English speakers as well, suggesting that these
young bilinguals had developed monolingual-like, language-speciﬁc neural
mechanisms within shared brain regions of language processing.
Given the evidence of both shared and discrete neural mechanisms
for processing two languages, we turn now to evidence for the Integrated
Multilingual Model in literacy. Literacy acquisition builds on language
proﬁciency (Marks et al., 2019). One can expect that learning to read
in two languages will ‘recycle’ a bilingual’s dual systems for language
(Dehaene & Cohen, 2007), resulting in mechanisms for literacy that
reﬂect this underlying linguistic organization.
206 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
Developmental Perspectives on English Word Reading
Learning to read is a lengthy, multistage process. A child learning
to read in English initially develops logographic skills: the ability to
recognize familiar words in their entirety. In this ﬁrst stage, also known
as ‘whole-word’ recognition, a child may recognize the word ‘STOP’
as a whole unit that appears on a road sign. Next, alphabetic skills are
acquired. In this second stage, the child learns to map individual phonemes
onto letters (s-t-o-p). In the third stage, the child begins to identify higher-
level clusters of letters, ideally corresponding to morphemes or morpho-
syllables (Ehri, 2014; Frith, 1985). At this stage, a reader may rapidly
recognize ‘un-stopp-able’ as a composite of morphosyllabic units. In
other words, beginning readers often need to sound-out the printed
word by sequentially articu lating individ ual l etters to understand the
word’s meaning. In contrast, proﬁcient readers rapidly recognize large
units of meaning, such as entire words or meaningful parts of words.
Wit h time a nd pr actic e, this p roc es s be co mes i ncre as ing ly e fﬁci en t, an d
children become able to automatically link whole word forms with their
phonological and conceptual representations (Ehri, 2014).
Consistent with this developmental theoretical perspective,
neuroimaging studies of single word reading reveal a transition from
more effortful processing that relies on phonological and articulatory
systems, to more automated processing that directly connects visual
and conceptual representations (Turkeltaub et al., 2003). These neuro-
cognitive systems are detailed in Figure 8.1.
Figure 8.1 The neurocognitive view of literacy. Brain regions involved in visual word
recognition: IFG – inferior frontal gyrus; IPL – inferior parietal lobule; STG – superior
temporal gyrus; MTG – middle temporal gyrus; OTC – occipito-temporal cortex.
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 207
During single word reading, beginning English readers recruit
a dorsal or phonological reading network that connects canonical
language regions with the premotor and primary visual cortex. Early
readers rely on regions associated with phonological processing such
as the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), which includes Broca’s area, and
the superior temporal gyrus (STG), which includes Wernicke’s area.
Connecting these two regions to each other is the arcuate fasciculus
(AF), a large bundle of white matter ﬁbers. The AF also connects
both Broca’s and Wernicke’s regions to the inferior parietal lobule
(IPL), which is thought to integrate representations of sound, meaning
and print. This phonological route to reading is critical for young
readers, who rely on the effortful processing necessary to integrate
representations of print, sound, articulation and meaning.
As sound-to-print connections become automatic, readers can
devote fewer resources to phonological processing. This is due in part
to the increased efﬁciency of the phonological network. Instead, readers
increasingly rely on a ventral or semantic reading network that efﬁciently
connects the visual word form to representations of print and meaning.
Reading proﬁciency is correlated with decreased activity in the left IFG,
and increased activity in the left middle temporal gyrus (MTG), a region
associated with semantic retrieval (Turkeltaub et al., 2003). Reading
proﬁciency is also associated with increasing speciﬁcity in the occipito-
temporal cortex (OTC) in response to printed words. Greater activation
in one speciﬁc region of the OTC, known as the Visual Word Form Area,
is associated with increased reading ﬂuency, and is thought to support
rapid word recognition and connection to lexical information (Dehaene
et al., 2015). In other words, proﬁcient readers can bypass effortful
auditory recoding and phonological processing and directly derive the
meaning of a word from its orthographic form.
Proﬁcient adult readers integrate the dorsal and ventral reading networks
in parallel, with some variation depending on the psycholinguistic features
of the task at hand. For example, adults show stronger activation in the left
IFG region when reading low frequency words (e.g. anointed), or unfamiliar
words. In contrast, they demonstrate greater activation in the left MTG and
occipito-temporal regions when reading real words, especially those of high
frequency, which is thought to reﬂect the connection between word meanings
and orthographic representations (Fiebach et al., 2002). Proﬁcient word
reading can thus rely on mechanisms for phonological decoding, as well as
mechanisms for rapid meaning recognition.
Reading Across Languages
Across all languages and orthographies, readers must learn to
recognize their language on a printed page. Monolingual readers of
any language rely on the same language-general regions of the brain,
208 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
comprising the perisylvian language network (Bolger et al., 2005; Rueckl
et al., 2015). Although a universal task in learning to read is recognizing
that language is somehow represented by print (The Universal Grammar
of Reading; Perfetti, 2003), writing systems vary in how they encode
linguistic units. A learner’s language-speciﬁc task is to therefore uncover
their orthography’s particular mapping principles between sound,
meaning and print (Perfetti, 2003).
These speciﬁc mapping principles vary across languages, inﬂuencing
both the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms and the develop-
mental trajectory of early reading acquisition. Young bilingual learners
may thus provide a unique lens for understanding the integrated and
language-speciﬁc aspects of neural reorganization for learning to read.
Cross-linguistic variation in how orthographies map onto spoken
language often corresponds to language-speciﬁc differences in word
structure (Frost, 2012; Seidenberg, 2012). Semitic languages employ
alphabets in which letters mostly denote consonants. This is because root
morphemes are typically comprised of two or three consonants. These
roots convey meaning in the absence of vowels, such as ‘pants’ spelled as
‘PNT’; words are then derived through phonological changes to the short
root. In Indo-European languages like Latin or English, roots are often
long and include more than three sounds per syllable and more than one
syllable per root (e.g. ‘cluster,’ or ‘before’). Moreover, Indo-European
languages abound in roots for which meaning is distinguished by vowels,
so ‘PNT’ could denote ‘pint,’ ‘paint,’ ‘pinto’ or ‘piñata.’ As a result,
Indo–European alphabets, such as Latin, Cyrillic or Hindi, typically
assign letters to both vowel and consonant sounds.
In contrast, orthographic units in Chinese typically correspond to
morphemes. The majority of Chinese words are lexical compounds,
comprised of two to three monosyllabic morphemes (akin to ‘birth-day’
or ‘snow-man’). These morphosyllables are often homophones, which
means that the same combination of sounds may be associated with
many different meanings. Like the English homophones ‘meet’ and
‘meat,’ Chinese has homophone pairs like 钱 (qián) meaning ‘money’
and 前 (qián) meaning ‘before.’ In general, Chinese readers must
associate a visual word form with its meaning, and then derive the
pronunciation of a word by accessing phonological representation in
their mental lexicon (McBride-Chang et al., 2005). Although spoken
languages change faster than scripts (e.g. English speakers no longer
pronounce the ‘k’ in ‘know’), many modern scripts are an appropriate
match for their languages’ core morphophonological structure
The varying emphasis on sound-to-print and meaning-to-print
associations across languages results in different acquisition strategies
depending on the language and orthography (Katz & Frost, 1992).
Across all languages, phonological awareness, morphological awareness
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 209
and vocabulary knowledge all support reading ability. However,
children’s reliance on these various metalinguistic abilities varies as
a function of the language-speciﬁc mapping principles. For instance,
among monolingual second-grade English readers in the United States,
path analyses revealed that phonological awareness made the greatest
contribution to word reading ability above other metalinguistic skills
(see Figure 8.2). However, among monolingual readers of Chinese living
in Hong Kong, morphological awareness and vocabulary knowledge
signiﬁcantly predicted word reading, while phonological awareness made
a much smaller contribution relative to English (McBride-Chang et al.,
2005). Thus, while reading relies on the same core brain regions and
the same cognitive skills across languages (Rueckl et al., 2015), children
come to recruit these resources differently based on language-speciﬁc
demands. How does the brain develop these multifunctional reading
Language-speciﬁc neural development
As a reader gains experience and proﬁciency, their neural systems
for reading specialize in a way that is optimally efﬁcient for their
orthography. Crosslinguistic differences in reading mechanisms are
thus the result of learning-driven neural plasticity in response to the
processing demands of each language. Elegant evidence of language-
speciﬁc specialization comes from Cao et al. (2015), who compared
monolingual adult and child readers of English and Chinese using
a rhyme judgment task, a common methodological approach to
study phonological reading mechanisms. In English speakers, they
found a developmental increase in inferior frontal and inferior
Figure 8.2 Relative contributions of morphology, vocabulary and phonology to
word reading outcomes. Adapted from McBride-Chang et al. (2005). *p < .05;
***p < .001.
210 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
parietal activation, regions associated with phonological processing.
Conversely, adult Chinese readers demonstrated increased activity
in regions associated with semantic processing (MTG) and greater
occipital activation than English adults. This difference likely reﬂects
Chinese readers’ greater reliance on lexical and orthographic analysis
to recognize word meaning in print, and then to access phonological
representations of those words. In other words, reading universally
recruits language mechanisms to recognize meaning in print (Rueckl
et al., 2015). Yet, as different orthographies often accentuate cross-
linguistic differences in word structure, learning to read may further
reinforce the differential formation of language-speciﬁc neural processes.
Single Word Reading in the Bilingual Brain
Like monolinguals (Rueckl et al., 2015), bilingual readers also recruit
universal brain systems for reading in both their languages. For instance,
an examination of Hindi-English bilinguals and monolinguals revealed
activation in the left inferior parietal lobule (IPL) across languages (Das
et al., 2011). Furthermore, when reading high-frequency words versus
low-frequency words across both languages, participants showed greater
activation in the left MTG region, likely reﬂecting the more automated
recognition of meaning of the more common word units. This set of
ﬁndings suggests that some aspects of the literacy network are universal
across languages, for both monolingual and bilingual readers (Das et al.,
Yet, bilinguals also develop language-speciﬁc reading systems for
each of their languages. For instance, in adult French-German bilinguals,
eye-tracking studies reveal different patterns of eye movements for
reading in an opaque versus a phonologically transparent language
(Rodríguez et al., 2016). The crosslinguistic comparison of Hindi-
English bilinguals also revealed that reading in English incurred greater
activation in left frontal regions associated with more complex sound-to-
print mapping and verbal working memory demands, as well as greater
activation in left inferior temporal regions associated with visual word
processing. This was true of both bilingual and monolingual English
readers, and likely reﬂected the need for additional neurocognitive
resources to support effortful phonological processing in more opaque
orthography. Importantly, the study’s behavioral data support this
interpretation: all participants took longer to read low-frequency words
in English than in Hindi (see also similar crosslinguistic effects in Jamal
et al., 2012). In other words, bilinguals successfully modulate their
approach to reading based on language-speciﬁc demands.
Logically, the bilingual data also suggest effects of experiential
factors, such as age of acquisition. The bilinguals who had started
to learn to read in English at age 10 showed stronger activation in the
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 211
left IPL during English reading compared to those who had learned to
read in English and Hindi simultaneously at age 5. While simultaneous
readers showed more differentiated, monolingual-like patterns of activity
for each of their languages, sequential readers placed stronger reliance
on phonological reading strategies typical of Hindi when reading in
English, their later acquired language (Das et al., 2011). Similar effects
have been found for sequential learners of English and Japanese (Nakada
et al., 2001) and English and Chinese (Tan et al., 2003), in which readers
transfer their L1 neural architecture to support their L2 processing.
These ﬁndings elegantly reﬂect that many aspects of orthographic
processing are common across orthographies and are thus integrated
across the bilinguals’ two languages. Nevertheless, language-speciﬁc
demands may also incur language-speciﬁc processes.
Importantly, neural mechanisms recruited for bilingual word reading
reﬂect varying task demands both within languages and across languages.
For inst an ce, i n a stu dy of fami li ar wor d an d no n-wo rd re ad ing in Hi ndi-
English bilingual children, participants relied on a shared neural system
for reading familiar words in both Hindi and English (Cherodath &
Singh, 2015). However, non-word reading required children to recruit
language-speciﬁc decoding mechanisms. English non-words required
stronger activation of the left IFG than Hindi non-words, reﬂecting
the more effortful phonological processing necessary for decoding in
a less consistent orthography. Similar to monolingual readers (Fiebach
et al., 2002), bilinguals not only demonstrate speciﬁc patterns of activity
across languages, but they also demonstrate different routes to successful
decoding within a single language.
To summarize, monolingual and bilingual word reading across
languages reveals both integrated and differentiated processing
mechanisms. The speciﬁc linguistic demands of single word (and
non-word) decoding across languages can reveal discrete, specialized
neural mechanisms for each language. Yet, consistent with the
integrated multilingual perspective, reading networks are not completely
independent. Single-word reading in any language relies on shared or
universal systems for word reading (Rueckl et al., 2015), including both a
phonological and a lexical route to word recognition. Bilinguals are able
to develop language-speciﬁc patterns of engaging these systems, both
within and across languages.
A bilingual’s two languages, housed in the same brain, inevitably
interact (Grosjean, 1989). Many theoretical frameworks have sought
to explain this crosslinguistic interaction in the bilingual mind (for
recent overviews, see Chung et al., 2019; MacSwan et al., 2017). The
linguistic interdependence hypothesis, as originally posited by Jim
212 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
Cummins (1979), suggests that bilingual children’s second-language (L2)
literacy development is inextricably tied to their literacy development
in their ﬁrst language of acquisition (L1). Speciﬁcally, L1 inﬂuences L2
through transfer: the process by which speciﬁc cognitive competencies
in one language are transferred to support developing skills in the other
language (Cummins, 1979, 2017). Dynamic systems theory (e.g. de Bot
et al., 2007) suggests that supporting multiple languages in one mind
alters the development of the global multilingual system, as well as
the development of each language individually. The interactive transfer
framework (Chung et al., 2019) further reminds us that manifestations
of bilingual transfer may vary widely, inﬂuenced by the speciﬁc
metalinguistic constructs in question, the properties of a bilingual’s
two languages in relation to one another, and many other sociocultural
factors such as age and context of acquisition.
We have discussed examples of such L1-to-L2 transfer when
reviewing evidence for sequential learners in the previous section. Yet,
as the frameworks above recognize, transfer is not limited to sequential
bilingual learners. To fully appreciate the nature of crosslinguistic
interactions, one must consider individuals who learned their two
languages simultaneously in childhood. Simultaneous bilingual language
and reading acquisition may help us better understand the language-
speciﬁcity for learning to read, as well as the neural plasticity for
accommodating two different orthographic systems in one brain.
Bilinguals who acquire their second language later in life may recruit
mechanisms for L1 reading when reading in their second language (Das
et al., 2011). Similarly, in our behavioral studies with young Spanish-
English bilinguals ages 7–9 in dual-language immersion classrooms, we
ﬁnd that sequential learners are better at phonological awareness tasks
common to English and Spanish. However, simultaneous bilinguals have
better overall reading proﬁciency in English and are also better at reading
phonologically opaque English words such as ‘island’ and ‘character’
(Berens et al., 2013). These ﬁndings suggest that language transfer may
manifest differently, even in young children, as a function of age and
order of acquisition. Importantly, however, we observed no signiﬁcant
differences in language proﬁciency, phonological awareness and decoding
between the bilingual children and monolingual English-speaking
children in a monolingual school context (Berens et al., 2013). In other
words, bilingual learners can effectively build language-speciﬁc literacy
mechanisms for each of their languages from the onset of reading
Crosslinguistic transfer is well documented for simultaneous
learners with formal literacy instruction in both their languages.
For instance, in Singapore, children learning both English and
Malay (an alphabetic, relatively transparent language) were found
to make phonological errors in English, spelling table as ‘tabel’ while
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 213
bilingual Chinese-English children were more likely to make lexical
errors, spelling green as ‘grass’ (Dixon et al., 2010). Similarly, Lallier
and colleagues (2016) investigated young Basque bilinguals in Spain
attending either Spanish-Basque or Basque-French schools. In both
contexts, Basque was the dominant language of reading instruction in
early grades. Spanish is more phonologically transparent than Basque,
while French is more phonologically opaque. Logically, Spanish-
Basque bilinguals were better at reading pseudowords in Basque, as
pseudoword reading tasks are thought to tap into the phonology-based
reading processes. In contrast, Basque-French bilinguals had better
visual orthographic processing (Lallier et al., 2016). In sum, even those
learning to read in two languages at the same time experience cross-
linguistic transfer that is consistent with the orthographic features of
their two languages.
Yet, while the crosslinguistic transfer is typically characterized in
terms of orthographic features such as visual complexity or phonological
transparency, differences in script are also intrinsically linked to
differences in linguistic structure (Seidenberg, 2012). Is there evidence
to suggest speech-based bilingual transfer in learning to read? One
way to explore this possibility is to study children who are primarily
learning to read in only one of their two languages. This is typical of
immigrant children in the US, who often experience English-only reading
instruction at school and some varied amounts of reading experiences in
their heritage language at home and/or in their community.
Our research with young Spanish-English bilinguals educated
predominantly in English in the US revealed that these bilinguals showed
greater reliance on phonological awareness for reading in English
than age-/grade-matched English monolinguals (Kremin et al., 2016;
Sun et al., 2021). Neuroimaging further revealed that young Spanish-
English bilinguals showed stronger left temporal and reduced left
frontal activation in English, relative to English monolinguals during a
pseudoword reading task (Jasińska et al., 2017). This bilingual ﬁnding
reﬂects differences in monolingual language processing: a comparison
between monolingual Italian and English-speaking adults during a
pseudoword reading task found that Italian speakers showed greater
activation in left STG whereas English speakers show greater activation
in left IFG (Paulesu et al., 2000). Increased left temporal activation and
decreased left frontal activation in young Spanish-English bilinguals can
thus be interpreted to suggest that these bilinguals are forming literacy
pathways with greater reliance on phonological decoding strategies for
reading in English. While it is logical to assume that Spanish-English
bilinguals should transfer reading strategies from phonologically
transparent Spanish, the ﬁnding is noteworthy because the children’s
Spanish literacy was quite limited; instead, transfer effects appear to be
driven by spoken language proﬁciency.
214 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
Transfer effects from a home language to a dominant language
of literacy instruction were also found in Chinese-English bilinguals
(Hsu et al., 2016; Ip et al., 2016; Sun et al., 2022). Recall that, in
Chinese, most words are compounds, akin to snow-man, with each
morpheme often mapping onto a character. Our research with young
Chinese-English bilinguals educated predominantly in English in the
US revealed that these bilinguals showed greater reliance on lexical
strategies when reading in English, relative to English monolinguals.
This pattern of results was observed even with beginning readers, ages
6–8 (Hsu et al., 2016). Furthermore, when compared to monolingual
English children during a morphological awareness judgment task,
these Chinese-English bilinguals showed greater activation in the left
MTG region associated with lexico-semantic processes (Ip et al., 2016).
However, these bilinguals also showed robust language-speciﬁc reading
strategies. Akin to monolingual readers of their respective languages,
these bilinguals showed greater reliance on morphology for reading in
Chinese than in English (Hsu et al., 2016), and greater left IFG activation
during morphological awareness tasks in English than Chinese (Ip et al.,
2016). In sum, while simultaneous learners can and do develop
language-speciﬁc literacy strategies for each of their languages, bilingual
experiences can nevertheless have a robust cross-linguistic impact on the
children’s developing neural architecture for reading.
Why are these bi-directional bilingual literacy transfer effects so
robust, even in light of bilinguals’ dominant literacy experiences in one
of their languages? One underlying mechanism might be the transfer of
salient language features that jointly characterize spoken and written
processing in children’s heritage language or the language of lower
reading proﬁciency. In Spanish, words are typically polysyllabic and
include many phoneme-sized morphosyntactic markers of gender, tense
and aspect. In English, typical words are monomorphemic with a limited
repertoire of morphosyntactic markers. Spanish speakers are known
to attend more to morphosyntactic features than English speakers, a
processing feature that transfers to English even in early exposed and
proﬁcient Spanish-English (Hernandez et al., 1994). In contrast, Chinese
word processing is characterized by analysis of lexical morphology
(Liu et al., 2013). The bilingual language experience in Spanish versus
Chinese may therefore bias young bilingual learners to pay greater
attention to phonological or lexical features of English print, respectively.
In support of this idea, we ﬁnd that young Spanish-English bilinguals
show greater reliance on phonological as well as morphosyntactic skills
when reading in Spanish as well as when reading in English, relative to
English monolinguals (Kremin et al., 2016). In other words, newly
emerging evidence suggests that bilingual transfer effects in learning to
read may stem from a combined effect of bilingual children’s grammatical
knowledge and orthographic language experiences.
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 215
Thus, the study of reading acquisition in bilinguals reveals the
development of language-speciﬁc strategies and neural architecture, as
well as interaction and transfer between languages. Reading is a later-
developing skill that builds on and interacts with pre-existing linguistic
knowledge and brain systems for language, as well as attention and
visuo-spatial processing (Dehaene et al., 2010). These pre-existing
competencies vary as a function of the linguistic characteristics of
different languages. This variation is further reinforced by reading
experiences, because orthographies often reﬂect the key characteristics
of the underlying spoken language (Frost, 2012). Children’s bilingual
experiences with corresponding grammatical and orthographic
characteristics of their two languages may therefore yield language-
speciﬁc reading mechanisms as well as principled integration effects even
in light of greater reading experiences in one of the two languages.
We turn now to reading impairment, to examine how a single
neurocognitive impairment may manifest across languages. Develop-
mental dyslexia is a life-long difﬁculty in reading and learning to
read despite adequate intelligence and sufﬁcient reading instruction.
This disorder is generally thought to affect 3–10% of readers (Hoeft
et al., 2015), although estimates vary widely across languages
and orthographies. As we have reviewed throughout this chapter,
orthographies differ across languages, resulting in differences in develop-
mental trajectories for learning to read and orthography-speciﬁc word
reading skills. As reading across orthographies varies in the reliance on
speciﬁc skills and processes, is it possible for a bilingual child to have a
reading impairment in one language but not the other?
Research with alphabetic languages such as English reveals
that individuals with dyslexia often have trouble with sound-to-
print associations. Phonological deﬁcits appear to emerge early in
developmental dyslexia. For instance, infants who are later diagnosed
with dyslexia show a reduced neural response to changes in speech
sounds, in relation to infants who become typical readers (Leppänen
et al., 2011). Similarly, kindergarteners with high familial risk for
dyslexia (with a parent or a sibling with dyslexia) also show reduced
STG activation during phonological tasks before they begin formal
reading instruction (Raschle et al., 2012). It is therefore likely that
phonological deﬁcits and the associated dysfunction of left temporal
regions are at the heart of reading deﬁcits in dyslexia.
However, while phonology is also often impaired in Chinese
speakers with dyslexia (Goswami et al., 2011; Ziegler & Goswami,
2005), deﬁcits in morphological awareness more typically characterize
reading impairments in Chinese (Shu et al., 2006). As in alphabetic
216 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
languages, Chinese dyslexia is associated with anatomical differences
in dorsal arcuate (AF) white matter tract associated with phonological
ability (Su et al., 2018). At the same time, children with dyslexia show
reduced integrity of the inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF), which is
correlated with morphological ability (Su et al., 2018) and a reduced
N400 response (a left temporal ERP response that reﬂects lexico-
semantic processes) during morphological tasks (Xiuhong Tong et al.,
2014). In contrast, they do not show reduced left temporal activation
during phonological rhyme judgment tasks, which stands in contrast to
decades of dyslexia research in English (Siok et al., 2008). Nevertheless,
morphological awareness tasks in Chinese are found to engage left
temporal regions that are typically affected in dyslexia in alphabetic
languages (Ip et al., 2019; Zhao et al., 2017). It is therefore possible
that a common dysfunction in these left temporal regions manifests as
a predominantly morphological deﬁcit in Chinese and a predominantly
phonological deﬁcit in English.
Studying young bilingual learners can illuminate both common and
language-speciﬁc effects on learning to read and dyslexia. Bilingual
learners of alphabetic languages typically show similar reading deﬁcits
across their two languages (Klein & Doctor, 2003), although the same
deﬁcit may be more pronounced in one language than the other. For
instance, balanced French-Spanish bilingual children with dyslexia
demonstrated similar impairments in reading speed in both their
languages, but more severe reading accuracy deﬁcits in their more
opaque language (French; Lallier et al., 2014). Critically, bilingual
transfer effects also inﬂuence bilinguals with dyslexia. Intriguingly,
D’Angiulli and colleagues (2002) found that among children with
reading impairments, English-Italian bilinguals outperformed English
monolinguals on phonological reading tasks in English. This suggests
that among children with dyslexia, learning a language with high sound-
to-print predictability may advance their phonological reading skills
in their less phonologically predictable language (Lallier et al., 2016).
Other studies have failed to ﬁnd a bilingual advantage in phonological
awareness but have nevertheless demonstrated that experience with a
transparent orthography may ameliorate the severity of reading deﬁcits
in an opaque language (e.g. English-Welsh adults; Lallier et al., 2018).
Biliteracy may be especially helpful when reading remediation is only
available in one of the children’s languages (Geva, 2006).
The effects of bilingualism on dyslexia are less clear for learners
of more distinct orthographic systems. For instance, Wydell and
Butterworth (1999) reported a classic case study of a Japanese-English
boy with ‘monolingual dyslexia.’ This child had a phonological deﬁcit
that impaired his English but not his Japanese reading (Wydell &
Butterworth, 1999; Wydell & Kondo, 2003). Similarly, research with
Chinese-English children reveals that among children with signs of
Integrated Multilingualism and Bilingual Reading Development 217
dyslexia in at least one of their languages, only 30–50% also showed
signs of dyslexia in their other language (McBride-Chang et al., 2013;
Tong et al., 2015). However, an important caveat of bilingual dyslexia
studies is that the children may have lower overall language proﬁciency in
one of their two languages, which can be mistaken for a reading deﬁcit.
To the degree that reading deﬁcits are heterogeneous, it is possible for
them to manifest differently across the bilinguals’ respective languages
as a function of each system’s orthographic characteristics. One example
comes from a recent study of Chinese-English bilinguals in Hong Kong
who were diagnosed with dyslexia based on their Chinese reading (Huo
et al., 2021). Children with a more pronounced orthographic deﬁcit were
relatively less impaired in English word reading ﬂuency, whereas children
with a speciﬁc phonological deﬁcit demonstrated greater English
impairment but a reduced Chinese word reading deﬁcit. Examples of
language-speciﬁc reading deﬁcits may therefore suggest discrete literacy
systems in the bilingual brain.
In sum, there is signiﬁcant crosslinguistic variation in how dyslexia
manifests across languages. This may reﬂect the differences in how
literacy environments or sub-lexical word structure interact with
fundamentally similar deﬁcits, such as the ability to manipulate the
salient morphophonological characteristics of a given language.
Research with bilingual learners with dyslexia is relatively limited but
it offers an exciting window of opportunity for uncovering core factors
in literacy and dyslexia that may be language speciﬁc, or may reﬂect
underlying universal mechanisms for reading across languages.
Across languages, learning to read builds upon children’s pre-existing
linguistic capacities. Yet, because languages and orthographies vary, so
does the course of acquisition and the neurodevelopmental changes for
reading. The study of bilingual learners thus offers a unique opportunity
to better understand the universal and language-speciﬁc aspects of
learning to read as well as the bilingual brain.
The bilingual evidence suggests that highly proﬁcient readers of two
languages may show similar patterns of brain activity when reading in
each of their languages. At the same time, ﬁne-grained MVPA pattern
analysis reveals that within these overlapping regions of activity, the
same populations of neurons respond differently when participants
are reading words in Language A versus Language B (Xu et al., 2017).
These ﬁndings suggest, on the one hand, that much of reading is
universal in its processing across languages (Rueckl et al., 2015). On the
other hand, within these overlapping brain regions indicative of similar
neurocognitive processes, the bilingual brain forms language-speciﬁc
neural networks for reading mechanisms.
218 Part 3: Psycholinguistics
Bilinguals’ two literacies do interact, as is evident in crosslinguistic
transfer. Some of these transfer effects appear to be orthography driven,
such as transfers in visual analyses (Lallier et al., 2016). Yet, due to the
link between orthography and the underlying linguistic system, there
is also evidence to suggest that literacy transfers are a joint product
of corresponding spoken and orthographic characteristics of a given
language, such as greater attention to lexical features for reading in
English in bilingual speakers of Chinese (Ip et al., 2016). All told,
emerging research evidence suggests that the bilingual reading experience
can be viewed as both yielding independent literacy systems for each of
the bilinguals’ two languages as well as additive systems that interact.
The Integrated Multilingual Model predicts that bilingual children
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both by the universal language-general literacy network and by
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