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Abstract

Human cognition occurs within social contexts, and nowhere is this more evident than language behavior. Regularly using multiple languages is a globally ubiquitous individual experience that is shaped by social environmental forces, ranging from interpersonal interactions to ambient language exposure. Here, we develop a Systems Framework of Bilingualism, where embedded layers of individual, interpersonal, and ecological sociolinguistic factors jointly predict people's language behavior. Of note, we quantify interpersonal and ecological language dynamics through the novel applications of language-tagged social network analysis and geospatial demographic analysis among 106 English-French bilingual adults in Montréal, Canada. Consistent with a Systems view, we found that people's individual language behavior, on a global level (i.e., overall language use), was jointly predicted by the language characteristics of their interpersonal social networks and the ambient linguistic patterns of their residential neighborhood environments, whereas more granular aspects of language behavior (i.e., word-level proficiency) was mainly driven by local, interpersonal social networks. Together, this work offers a novel theoretical framework, bolstered by innovative analytic techniques to quantify complex social information and empower more holistic assessments of multifaceted human behaviors and cognition, like language. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

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In “The Devil's Dictionary”, Bierce (1911) defined language as “The music with which we charm the serpents guarding another's treasure.” This satirical definition reflects a core truth – humans communicate using language to accomplish social goals. In this Keynote, we urge cognitive scientists and neuroscientists to more fully embrace sociolinguistic and sociocultural experiences as part of their theoretical and empirical purview. To this end, we review theoretical antecedents of such approaches, and offer a new framework – the Systems Framework of Bilingualism – that we hope will be useful in this regard. We conclude with new questions to nudge our discipline towards a more nuanced, inclusive, and socially-informed scientific understanding of multilingual experience. We hope to engage a wide array of researchers united under the broad umbrella of multilingualism (e.g., researchers in neurocognition, sociolinguistics, and applied scientists).
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Upon hearing someone’s speech, a listener can access information such as the speaker’s age, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and their linguistic background. However, an open question is whether living in different locales modulates how listeners use these factors to assess speakers’ speech. Here, an audio-visual test was used to measure whether listeners’ accentedness judgments and intelligibility (i.e., speech perception) can be modulated depending on racial information in faces that they see. American, British, and Indian English were used as three different English varieties of speech. These speech samples were presented with either a white female face or a South Asian female face. Two experiments were completed in two locales: Gainesville, Florida (USA) and Montreal, Quebec (Canada). Overall, Montreal listeners were more accurate in their transcription of sentences (i.e., intelligibility) compared to Gainesville listeners. Moreover, Gainesville listeners’ ability to transcribe the same spoken sentences decreased for all varieties when listening to speech paired with South Asian faces. However, seeing a white or a South Asian face did not impact speech intelligibility for the same spoken sentences for Montreal listeners. Finally, listeners’ accentedness judgments increased for American English and Indian English when the visual information changed from a white face to a South Asian face in Gainesville, but not in Montreal. These findings suggest that visual cues for race impact speech perception to a greater degree in locales with greater ecological diversity.
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