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Rethinking multilingual experience through a Systems Framework of Bilingualism


Abstract and Figures

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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Bilingualism: Language and
Keynote Article
Cite this article: Titone DA, Tiv M (2022).
Rethinking multilingual experience through a
Systems Framework of Bilingualism.
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 116.
Received: 16 October 2021
Accepted: 3 December 2021
bilingualism; multilingualism; experience;
cognition; sociolinguistics; ecolinguistics;
social context; social ecology
Address for correspondence:
Debra A. Titone (
Mehrgol Tiv (,
Department of Psychology, McGill University,
2001 McGill College Ave., Montréal, QC H3A
1G1, CA
© The Author(s), 2022. Published by
Cambridge University Press
Rethinking multilingual experience through a
Systems Framework of Bilingualism
Debra A. Titone and Mehrgol Tiv
Department of Psychology, Centre for Research on Brain, Language, & Music, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec,
In The Devils Dictionary, Bierce (1911) defined language as The music with which we
charm the serpents guarding anothers 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).
LANGUAGE, n. The music with which we
charm the serpents guarding anothers treasure.
(Bierce, 1911)
Language can be viewed as a new machine
created out of various cognitive and social components
that evolved initially in the service of completely different functions
(Bates et al., 1979)
It is probably true that no language group
has ever existed in isolation from other language groups,
and the history of language is replete with examples
of language contact leading to some form of bilingualism.
(Grosjean, 1982)
We open this Keynote with three quotes that circumnavigate a single idea -- humans commu-
nicate using multiple languages to accomplish sociocultural goals. Whether we converse in
person or through text messages, read a book silently to extract meaning or divine an authors
intent, encounter multiple languages in the physical landscape of our neighborhood, chant
thunderous calls to action in the streets, or use sign language or augmented communication
to engage with friends and neighbors, we are expressing a social capacity for language
whose current degree of sophistication is uniquely human.
Thus, as satirically asserted by Bierce (1911), language enables us to achieve social goals
involving other people, situated in an embodied and physical world. Further, as provocatively
theorized by Bates and colleagues for that time, our human language capacity evolved adap-
tively, over evolutionary time, repurposing earlier evolved component neurocognitive machin-
ery for social and cognitive functions. Finally, as astutely noted by Grosjean (1982), the
functional, neurocognitive, and social consequences of multilingualism derive from historical
sources of human contact across the globe (colonization, migration, and globalization),
language change, and the global pervasiveness of bilingualism or multilingualism (used
interchangeably here to indicate knowledge of more than one language).
Socially- and culturally-bound multilingual classifications speak directly and personally to
the authors of this Keynote. At different times, each of us were raised in a nation where English
dominance is unassailable (so much that designating English as an official language is
unnecessary). Here, one of us experienced directly what was perceived as an unforgiving
hand of English dominance and cultural assimilation, through which much of a first language
tied to family was lost (see López-Beltrán & Carlson, 2020, for more on the multifaceted
nature of heritage languages). Then, at different times, each of us migrated northward to an
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officially bilingual nation, in an officially monolingual Province,
where the mission of an official language ministry is to defend
against an English tsunami that would otherwise overwhelm the
vitality of French (for recent reviews regarding Quebec, see
Kircher, 2009; Leimgruber, 2020). A defensive stance against
English is understandable, but the manner in which policies do
so is routinely controversial, particularly in Montréal e.g., the
Pastagateincident (Chappell, 2013); the Mandys Saladesinci-
dent (Huffington Post, 2014); the renewed call to tighten French
language laws (Bruemmer, 2021). Meanwhile, hundreds of
Indigenous languages that pre-dated linguistic legislation within
Québec and Canada are rarely part of the public conversation
(Cárdenas, de la Sablonnière & Taylor, 2017; Kilpatrick, 2021).
Contrasting with these social realities, mainstream psycholin-
guisticsattention is usually directed within individuals, in
terms of language representations or processes, and domain-
general cognitive capacities that intersect with language. In our
field, language-specific neurocognitive capacities (e.g.,
Fedorenko & Blank, 2020), have been described historically as
processing modules. However, modules are not born, they
are made(Bates, Bretherton & Snyder, 1991, p. 284).
Consequently, peoples goals, motivations, and memory represen-
tations arise from interpersonal and social dynamics we passively
experience and actively create, which iteratively sculpt our indi-
vidual minds and brains (reviewed in Baum & Titone, 2014;
Titone, Gullifer, Subramaniapillai, Rajah & Baum, 2017).
The importance of social experience is recognized by many lin-
guistic sectors however, it is less apparent within the study of
adult psycholinguistics and the cognitive neuroscience of multilin-
gualism. Thus, we capitalize on the unique opportunity afforded by
this Keynote to encourage our discipline to rethink experience
(inspired by Elman, Bates & Johnson, 1996, who famously sug-
gested we rethink innateness). Our primary goal is a call to
actionfor psycholinguists to more fully embrace sociolinguistic
and sociocultural experiences as part of their theoretical and empir-
ical purview (see López, Luque & Piña-Watson, 2021 for a kindred
call to action; and a highly successful Theme session at the
International Symposium on Bilingualism that included leading
bilingualism scholars, Bak & Paradowski, 2021). In what follows,
we first review several theoretical antecedents of this new approach.
We then describe a framework we are developing the Systems
Framework of Bilingualism, and describe empirical challenges
and potential solutions with applying this framework. Finally, we
conclude with new questions we hope will nudge our discipline
towards a more nuanced, inclusive, and socially-informed scientific
understanding of multilingual experience.
Historical antecedents
A social view of language and multilingualism is not new in
human history. Ambrose Bierce started drafting definitions for
the Devils Dictionary
in 1881, and was pre-dated by legions
of satirists, philosophers, semioticians, rhetoricians, and many
others. Nor is it new within the language sciences (e.g., the sub-
fields of linguistic anthropology, language evolution, sociolinguis-
tics, pragmatics, language planning, education, and more; for
engaging reviews, see Edwards, 2012a,2012b; García & Wei,
2014; Grosjean, 1982; Steffensen & Fill, 2014). However, a
countervailing force from both linguistic and psycholinguistic tra-
ditions collectively biases us to abstract away from (or ignore
altogether) the admittedly noisy and hard-to-measure sociocul-
tural reality of the linguistic code, and how humans wield this
code in the service of everyday sociocultural needs. This bias likely
arose from historical factors operative during the emergence of
psycholinguistics that emphasized methodological rigour with a
high degree of quantitative precision and may have been driven
by a touch of behaviorism-envy (recounted in Gardner, 1987;
Harris, 1995). It is baked into operational definitions of language
that prioritize its symbolic and referential properties, and how
humans encode and decode these properties (e.g., the so-called
message model, reviewed in Bavelas & Chovil, 2000).
A socially infused view of language and multilingualism has
long been essential within certain subdomains of linguistics
(e.g., linguistic anthropology, the study of endangered languages
and linguistic revitalization, sociolinguistics; e.g., Bybee, 2010;
Cacoullos & Travis, 2018; Labov, 2011), and has been necessary
for applied work on first and second language learning in both
children and adults, as forecasted almost three decades ago
(Bates & Carnevale, 1993), likely due to the need of these disci-
plines to enhance peoples actual learning and use of a first or
second language in everyday life. Thus, leading theories of indi-
vidual language learning characterize the uniqueness of human
language as a joint product of an exquisitely tuned, and
neurocognitively-driven statistical learning capacity (i.e., the
emergentist, usage-based view), alongside an exquisitely tuned
and neurocognitively-driven social motivation to mentalize
(e.g., a theory of mind capacity; Astington & Baird, 2005;
Beatty-Martínez & Dussias, 2018; Bybee, 2010; Ellis &
Larsen-Freeman, 2009; Hernandez, Claussenius-Kalman,
Ronderos, Castilla-Earls, Sun, Weiss & Young, 2019; Ibbotson,
2013; López-Beltrán & Carlson, 2020; Tomasello, 2000; Wulff,
2008). Importantly, the impact of emergentist, usage-based theor-
ies is now felt in studies of adult language processing (novel lan-
guage learning studies reviewed in Palma & Titone, 2021), where
a starting assumption is that novel language learning progresses
over the lifespan (Atkinson, Byrnes, Doran, Duff, Ellis, Hall,
Johnson, Lantolf, LarsenFreeman, Negueruela, Norton, Ortega,
Schumann, Swain & Tarone, 2016), in a manner that can be
modulated by social aspects of the learning context (e.g., Raviv,
Meyer & Lev-Ari, 2020). Similarly, comprehensive but perhaps
lesser-known frameworks (described below) explicitly conceive
of people as nested within a hierarchy of social contexts that
mutually constrain each other (e.g., Atkinson et al., 2016;
Bronfenbrenner, 1977,1979; de Bot, Lowie & Verspoor, 2007).
Collectively, these approaches inspire new ways of defining lan-
guage, such as the following formulation we find appealing.
“…the term language refers to:
(i) the means by which one individual more or less reliably ori-
ents anothers thoughts and actions;
(ii) a culturally determined set of acoustic, gestural, and/or writ-
ten signals;
(iii) the trans-generational stability of these signals, and
(iv) the functioning of these signals in an environment with arti-
facts and practices that support the ways the individuals liv-
ing in that environment are oriented by the language(s) they
speak.(Andresen & Carter, 2016,p.9)
It is instructive to examine different historical antecedents of
socially infused conceptions of language. One pertains to long-
DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a lan-
guage and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful
work.(Bierce, 1911)
2 Debra A. Titone and Mehrgol Tiv
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standing discussions in linguistics about how to best classify and
compare languages around the globe (reviewed in Edwards,
2012a,2012b). The very idea of what constitutes a language is
inherently fuzzy, even assuming a highly constrained view of lan-
guage as a mere symbolic system (e.g., a culturally determined set
of acoustic, gestural, and/or written signals). Thus, the task of
identifying a clear boundary where one language starts and
another begins, often with intervening dialects that have shifting
and asymmetric patterns of mutually intelligibility (Andresen &
Carter, 2016), is notoriously difficult precisely because such deter-
minations are inherently culture-bound (e.g., A language is a dia-
lect with an army and navy, attributed to a Bronx high school
teacher who attended a 1945 lecture by Yiddish linguist;
Weinreich, 1945).
The situation becomes increasingly complex when one consid-
ers the limitless variety of historical forces leading to multilingual-
ism in communities around the globe, and the ensuing dynamic
way that language symbols evolve over time (e.g., flatten the
curvehas taken on semantic nuance it never had before
COVID-19). This minimally involves geographically disparate
groups of people (communicating using culturally distinct acous-
tic, gestural, and/or written signals, Andresen & Carter, 2016)
coming in contact to accomplish mutual (e.g., commerce) or one-
sided (e.g., colonization) social goals (Wei, 2011). While many
forces cause people to form groups, Edwards (2012a, p. 37)
notes the most insistent and the most salient contexts are
those involving societies of unequal power and dominance.
Indeed, all of us currently live this reality in one form or another,
either as members of a privileged linguistic majority (usually
English-speaking but not always), as members of Indigenous,
immigrant, and racialized linguistic minorities, or as some com-
bination of all of the above. It is no coincidence that one of the
most commonly used tools of societal-level human control is
regulating the languages that people (particularly children) use
both inside and outside the home (particularly in schools), across
time and place, even within fictional worlds (e.g., Newspeak;
Orwell, 1984).
Thus, crucial to any classification of world languages, and con-
sequently the experiences of people who speak and comprehend
them, are sociocultural forces acting upon individual people
when they choose or are compelled, utterance by utterance, to
speak one or another language in daily life. Edwards (2012a) out-
lines no fewer than ten categories of language contact positioned
around three distinct axes of variability: first, whether Indigenous,
immigrant, or racialized linguistic minorities are only found
within a particular region; second, how tightly organized they
are within that region, and third, how physically separate they
are from the linguistic majority (see also de Bot, 2019; Raviv
et al., 2020; Wei, 2011). Accordingly, while the sociolinguistic
forces leading to multilingualism in Canada (officially English
French) may bear some similarity to those operative in another
officially EnglishFrench nation (e.g., Cameroon), there also
exist crucial differences that can predict how people produce
and comprehend multiple languages in these regions (see
Grosjean & Li, 2013; Grosjean, 1982 for prescient attention to
such details). This may include how motivated people are to acti-
vate or suppress one or another language within different social
settings, particularly with respect to regulating the L1 (Bjork &
Kroll, 2015; Bogulski, Bice & Kroll, 2019; Kroll, Dussias, Bice &
Perrotti, 2015; Pulido, 2021; Zirnstein, van Hell & Kroll, 2018;
Zirnstein, Bice & Kroll, 2019) alongside a host of additional
sociopolitical factors.
In sum, around the globe, issues surrounding language and
multilingual use are at the heart of justifiable concerns about
ethnolinguistic vitality and language endangerment in communi-
ties where majority, minority, and Indigenous languages collide
(e.g., Giles, Taylor & Bourhis, 1973; Heller, 1978; Sioufi &
Bourhis, 2017). They have a palpable, everyday psychological real-
ity that exerts its collective effects one person, family, and salad or
pasta shop at a time (see Doucerain, 2019, for a recent study of
language-driven acculturative stress in Montréal). On occasion,
they trigger social revolutions both quietand loud (Kircher,
2009; Leimgruber, 2020).
Socially-infused ecological approaches
While a careful reader may be persuaded that social and cultural
factors are crucial for multilingual processing at an individual,
neurocognitive level, they may also be uncertain about how to
account for so many mutually constraining layers of language
use in real time. On this point, another key historical antecedent
of a socially infused view of language derives from a tradition col-
lectively referred to as linguistic ecology, language ecology, or eco-
linguistics (reviewed in Atkinson et al., 2016; de Bot et al., 2007;
Edwards, 2012a,2012b; Steffensen & Fill, 2014; Wei, 2011).
Haugen (1972) was among the first to refer to the ecology of
language, highlighting the ways in which language use for indi-
vidual people aligned with the ecology of language use within
the larger social context. Echoes of this approach are evident in
now classic works within multilingualism (e.g., Grosjean, 1982,
in which Haugen is featured prominently and acknowledged as
a mentor). They are also evident in a recent characterization of
bilingual behavioral variability (Green, 2011), that underlies
core assumptions of the influential Adaptive Control
Hypothesis (Green & Abutalebi, 2013)
As described by both Edwards (2012a) and Steffensen and Fill
(2014), a strength of Haugens approach was its focus on attri-
butes of the broader ecological niches occupied by languages
and the people who speak them (i.e., the study of interactions
between any given language and its environment, Haugen,
1972, p. 225). Thus, while the focus was not on history per se,
it was on the linguistic and psychological consequences of histor-
ical forces, including matters of language status (i.e., the social
power assigned to speakers of particular languages), and intimacy
(i.e., the solidarity, friendship, and bonding with other people
afforded to speakers of particular languages). The psychological
aspect of Haugens approach is evident in the following quote
highlighted by Steffensen and Fill (2014).
Part of [a languages] ecology is therefore psychological: its
interaction with other languages in the minds of bi- and multilin-
gual speakers. Another part of its ecology is sociological: its inter-
action with the society in which it functions as a medium of
communication. The ecology of a language is determined primar-
ily by the people who learn it, use it, and transmit it to others.
(Haugen, 2001, pg. 57).
Moreover, as Edwards (2012a) observed, this approach is simi-
lar in spirit to that of other theorists at the time, including
Wallace Lambert from our own department at McGill (e.g., Peal
& Lambert, 1962) whose focus on language attitudes and status
led to one of the first empirical demonstrations of positive bilin-
gualism impacts on general cognitive abilities, and perhaps one of
the first papers to seriously consider the social context of bilin-
gualism. Rather than piling onto the then scholarly assertion
that bilingualism was a social liability, Peal and Lambert showed
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 3
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that bilingual children in Québec (where bilingualism was socially
valued when the research was conducted) performed BETTER than
monolingual children on a battery of verbal and non-verbal IQ
tests, language proficiency and language attitude tests (that con-
trolled for the methodological confounds of prior work such as
socioeconomic status, quality of schooling, etc.) Peal and
Lambert were thus among the first to promote the idea that bilin-
gual experience is an opportunity rather than a liability in terms
of mental flexibility (for an overview of Lamberts research contri-
butions, see Reynolds, 2014). This emphasis on social nuance was
later championed by others who worked and/or trained with
Lambert at McGill (e.g., Cárdenas et al., 2017; Genesee &
Lindholm-Leary, 2020; Huang & Nicoladis, 2020; Vaid &
Meuter, 2017), and of course was the seed for modern conjectures
about the positive cognitive consequences on bilingualism across
the lifespan (reviewed in Bialystok, 2021).
Nevertheless, the ecolinguistic approaches described thus far
were somewhat vague in specifying what constitutes a language
ecology or environment, and particularly how to systematically
and precisely quantify such differences (a point to which we
return below). Steffensen and Fill (2014) partially address this
issue by identifying several ways the environment of a language
had been conceived of within ecolinguistic traditions, for which
numbers 1, 3, and 4 (bolded below) are likely most relevant to
psycholinguistic and cognitive neuroscience approaches to
[1]Language exists in a symbolic ecology: this approach
investigates the co-existence of languages or symbol sys-
temswithin a given area.
[2] Language exists in a natural ecology: this approach investi-
gates how language relates to the biological and ecosystemic
surroundings (topography, climate, fauna, flora, etc.).
[3]Language exists in a sociocultural ecology: this approach
investigates how language relates to the social and cultural
forces that shape the conditions of speakers and speech
[4]Language exists in a cognitive ecology: this approach inves-
tigates how language is enabled by the dynamics between
biological organisms and their environment, focusing on
those cognitive capacities that give rise to organismsflex-
ible, adaptive behaviour.(Steffensen & Fill, 2014,p.7)
Thus, in the same way that the vision scientist Marr (1982)
famously articulated three interdependent levels of analysis for
complex cognitive systems (i.e., computational, algorithmic,
implementational), an ecolinguistic approach makes it possible
to specify several simultaneously operative, interdependent levels
for considering how languages (and thus language users) interact
with (and are impacted by) their symbolic, sociocultural, and cog-
nitive ecologies. Accordingly, language ecology researchers such
as Haugen, his contemporaries, and his intellectual beneficiaries
(e.g., Grosjean, 1982; and the history-enamored authors of this
Keynote), have made it possible to consider developing unified
models of language that might help guide a socially infused
approach to thinking about individual multilingual processing.
Perhaps most noteworthy for our purposes is work by the
developmental psychologist, Bronfrenbrenner, who wrote exten-
sively about the ecology of human behavior in the context of
development (reviewed in Shelton, 2018). Bronfenbrenner
(1977, p. 513) lamented on behalf of developmental psychology
that: To corrupt a contemporary metaphor, we risk being caught
between a rock and a soft place. The rock is rigor, and the soft
place relevance.To remedy this situation, he developed a com-
prehensive socioecological framework to reject the implied
dichotomy between rigour and relevance(Bronfenbrenner,
1977, p. 514; Bronfenbrenner, 1979). This framework was com-
prised of systematically nested spheres of social influence, in
which individual children were embedded. These spheres were
argued to reflect the reciprocal, iterative interactions between indi-
vidual and their local environmental settings (e.g., school, work,
family), referred to as the MICROSYSTEM;the totality of their distinct
settings or microsystems, referred to as the MESOSYSTEM; the indir-
ect, external social forces impacting their micro- and mesosystems
(e.g., neighborhood dynamics, mass media, etc), referred to as the
EXOSYSTEM; and finally, the overarching cultural/historical/societal
context from which all their lower level systems are derived (i.e.,
their blueprints), referred to as the MACROSYSTEM. From this,
Bronfenbrenner pursued different nuanced notions of
ECOLOGICAL VALIDITY for example, asking researchers to question
the degree to which the actual social contexts of their experiments
lawfully interacted with psychological phenomena of interest. To
Bronfenbrenner, the main effectsof any psychological experi-
ment should actually be interactionsof how different phenom-
ena vary within individuals, or across matched individuals, as a
function of social context.
Bronfenbrenners work subsequently inspired many other
research domains, including language. Highly relevant in this
regard is The Douglas Fir Group (Atkinson et al., 2016), a pseu-
donymed group of transdisciplinary language researchers, who
developed a linguistically specified ecological framework targeted
to second language acquisition. Similar to Bronfrenbrenner, The
Douglas Fir Group argued that to truly understand second lan-
guage acquisition in a manner that would be sufficient to advance
effective methods of learning and instruction, it would be neces-
sary to think beyond capacities of individual learners to the many
other ways in which learning environments also contributed to
successful individual learning outcomes. Thus, they too developed
a framework consisting of highly nested levels, where the individ-
ual and their neurocognitive capacities were at the center, fol-
lowed by local interactions with other people across different
languages (i.e., the MICROLEVEL OF SOCIAL ACTIVITY), then higher
level that bridged individual interactions as in the case of neigh-
borhoods, families, places of work (i.e., the MESOLEVEL OF
est social level of cultural and political values (i.e., the
Similar in spirit, but derived instead from complexity and
dynamical systems theory, was de Bot et al. (2007) who, in their
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition Keynote, asserted that
second language acquisition consisted of a series of nested
dynamical systems, where each system varies in granularity, but
all operate according to the same dynamic principles. Within
this view, language is less a fax-machine-like message transmitter,
and more a dance between people communicating with each
other, where each interactional dance partner creates perturba-
tions that lead to emergent properties that exceed the sum of
each individuals solo contribution. Filipovićand Hawkins
(2019) also posits an integrative dynamical systems view, accord-
ing to which second language performance is jointly determined
by internal factors, such as AoA and proficiency (among others)
and external factors.
To conclude this section, several socioecological approaches
have been discussed over the years, culminating in frameworks
4 Debra A. Titone and Mehrgol Tiv
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that systematically detail the social spheres that are relevant to
individual language use. This leads us to the next section that
details how our group has capitalized upon these traditions to
develop a Systems Framework of Bilingualism, with which we
bridge psycholinguistic or neurocognitive individual functions
via socioecological forces.
A Systems Framework of Bilingualism
We present here a comprehensive socially-situated Systems
Framework of Bilingualism to guide our understanding of the
complex sources of sociolinguistic context that influence peoples
language use, development, and cognition (Tiv, Kutlu, ORegan &
Titone, 2021; Tiv, Kutlu, Gullifer, Feng, Doucerain & Titone, in
press). This framework blends language-relevant elements of
Bronfenbrenners social-ecological model of human development
(Bronfenbrenner, 1979), other ecolinguistic traditions (Finke,
2001; Grosjean, 1982; Labov, 1972; Steffensen & Fill, 2014;Van
Lier, 2002), and theoretical efforts in language acquisition
(Atkinson et al., 2016; de Bot et al., 2007; Leon Guerrero &
Luk, 2021). One goal of this approach was to underscore the
broad implications of social context to ALL ASPECTS OF
transcending domain-specific frameworks, such as second lan-
guage acquisition. We also wished to explicitly consider the
ways that interpersonal, ecological, societal, as well as historical
or developmental constraints can jointly impact individual bilin-
gual behavior.
Similar to past approaches, an individual person (referred to as
an EGO in the network science literature) within a Systems
Framework of Bilingualism (depicted in Figure 1) exists in a
nested hierarchical system of interdependent spheres of social
influence. Interpersonal language dynamics is the first sphere of
influence, which involves person-to-person interactions (akin to
BronfenbrennersMICROSYSTEM, or the Douglas Fir Groups
MICROLEVEL). Ecological language dynamics is that second sphere
of influence, which involves relatively local social contexts in
which people communicate with other people (e.g., their residen-
tial neighborhood, their school or workplace, and any other ambi-
ent exposure to language such as what may be found within the
linguistic landscape; akin to BronfenbrennersMESOSYSTEM,or
The Douglas Fir GroupsMESOLEVEL). Societal language dynamics
is the third sphere of influence, which involves higher-order char-
acteristics of the society (akin to BronfenbrennersEXOSYSTEM AND
MACROSYSTEM, or The Douglas Fir GroupsMACROLEVEL). This could
include language attitudes, beliefs, status, and policy. Finally, at
the outer limits, depicted by phases of the moon, is how the tem-
poral dynamics of the system changes over developmental time,
or in a manner shaped by historical context.
Thus, within this framework, a given person sits at the base of
a complex system that, crucially, uniquely varies given the particu-
lar configuration of languages that they know, and how they use
those languages in daily life. For example, at the level of
Interpersonal Dynamics, we can track how a bilingual person
may use one language with their parents or guardians and another
language with their siblings. Additionally, we can track whether
the ego critically bridges different language groups (Tiv et al.,
2021; Tiv, Kutlu, ORegan & Titone, in press). In past work
(Tiv et al., 2021,in press), described below, we quantified these
dynamics with social network attributes from the language(s)
used in person-to-person interactions. As another example at
the level of Ecological Dynamics, a bilingual person may live in
a linguistically homogenous neighborhood, where one primary
language is overheard in public spaces, such as groceries stores,
restaurants, parks, and more, which in turn constrains their
opportunities to engage with their other known languages. As a
final example at the level of Societal Dynamics, while the
Canadian federal government recognizes both English and
French as official languages, the only official language in the prov-
ince of Québec is French, where the majority of French speakers
in Canada reside (94% in 2017, Statistics Canada, 2016). Yet,
Montréal is a linguistically diverse city where bilingualism may
be viewed more favorably than, say, more rural regions in Québec.
ASystems Framework of Bilingualism has the exciting potential
to create new socially infused questions about language and
multilingualism to guide psycholinguistic and cognitive neurosci-
ence research. However, there are a variety of practical challenges,
which include but are not limited to measuring sociolinguistic
experiences of an interpersonal nature (i.e., INTERPERSONAL
LANGUAGE DYNAMICS), and measuring sociolinguistic experiences
at an ecological or societal level (i.e., ECOLOGICAL AND SOCIETAL
LANGUAGE DYNAMICS). We must also account for peoples individual
attributes (ego-driven language dynamics) that further constrain
their neurocognition. In what follows, we briefly describe each
set of challenges, starting with ego-driven individual differences,
along with potential emerging quantitative solutions where
1 Ego-driven language dynamics (i.e., the experiences of
One challenge of applying a Systems Framework of Bilingualism is
to accurately assess, and ideally quantify, the sociocultural and
psycholinguistic experiences of individual people. While the easier
part of this challenge has always been to gather data, the thornier
part is what exactly to do with those data after they are gathered.
With respect to data gathering, particularly about individual
people, there are several well-regarded language history question-
naires in bilingualism research that have collected data of socio-
cultural relevance, across multiple languages. These notably
include Marians LEAP-Q (Marian & Hayakawa, 2021) and the
multiple iterations of Ping Lis LHQ 3.0 (e.g., Li, Zhang, Yu &
Zhao, 2020). Also noteworthy is ParadisBilingual Aphasia Test
(Paradis, 2011), which has been systematically translated to be
functionally equivalent across numerous languages globally.
Indeed, the effort expended to ensure accurate, valid, and
Fig. 1. A Systems Framework of Bilingualism (Figure taken from Tiv et al., in press), in
which interdependent layers of sociolinguistic context iteratively and reciprocally
impact the individual or ego. These layers include interpersonal, ecological and soci-
etal spheres of influence. Finally, developmental or historical time can exert subtle
temporal influences on the system, in a manner that constrains cognition, behavior,
and neuroplasticity.
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functional translations of the Bilingual Aphasia Test speaks to the
inherent challenges of assuming that the same language assess-
ment questionnaire will comparably assess language experience
in equally valid ways (for a newer take, see Flake, Shaw &
Luong, 2021).
Importantly, established questionnaires have been joined by
newer efforts that more intensively assess sociocultural differences
among people. These include Anderson et al.sLanguage and
Social Background Questionnaire(LSBQ, Anderson, Mak,
Chahi & Bialystok, 2018), or Wigdorowitz et al.sContextual
and Individual Linguistic Diversity Questionnaire(CILD-Q)
(Wigdorowitz, Pérez & Tsimpli, 2020). Specifically, the LSBQ
encompasses community language practices, such as language
use across life stages, distinct communicative contexts, and with
unique interlocuters. This questionnaire also assesses language
use across a broad set of everyday activities and can be used to
paint a colorful landscape of a respondentsreal-world language
behavior. The CILD-Q was developed for testing in South
Africa, and it is malleable to fit any region with English as the ref-
erence language. This questionnaire consists of items pertaining
to multilingualism in context,multilingualism in practice
and language diversity promotion.Interestingly, recent initia-
tives have emerged to make these and other survey tools more
accessible and adoptable across a wide set of bilingualism
researchers. For example, Luk and Esposito (2020) published a
mini-series in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, where they
collected five contributions from bilingualism researchers at the
forefront of developing socially-contextualized language surveys.
Some advances in assessing the language background of individ-
ual people now extend to social media (Zhuravleva, de Bot &
Hilton, 2016).
Thus, many excellent tools are available to assess peoples indi-
vidual, ego-driven sociolinguistic experiences, which could be tai-
lored to more accurately represent diverse bilingual experiences
and contexts globally. However, if our group is any indication,
we conjecture that while many labs use such instruments whole-
sale, they may typically focus on one or more bread and butter
measures that are most frequently reported in the literature (i.e.,
L2 age of acquisition, L2 usage, L2 proficiency, etc.).
There are
many reasons for this approach, which include keeping ones stat-
istical models as simple as possible, the highly intercorrelated and
often unbalanced nature of measures within and across particular
participant samples, and finally, because researchers may simply
not be interested in the full range of items on many standardized
language background questionnaires in a given study.
Nevertheless, many researchers have ventured beyond the rela-
tive safety of L2 age of acquisition, L2 usage, and L2 proficiency to
explore more socioculturally relevant attributes. Here, the ques-
tion then becomes how to systematically analyze all these multi-
factorial data points to statistically bridge the different levels of
analysis required of the Systems Framework of Bilingualism.
Indeed, many questionnaires that people use include categorical
response options that make it difficult to translate questionnaire
data into fixed effect continuous predictors within any LME linear
mixed-effects (or multilevel) model, which could be statistically
desirable (MacCallum, Zhang, Preacher & Rucker, 2002).
Another question concerns how to optimally quantify and reduce
sociocultural experiences into quantifiable continuous measures
to be used alongside the others, as needed.
In one potential emerging solution for these challenges,
Gullifer and Titone (2019) developed the measurement approach
of LANGUAGE ENTROPY to capture within-person individual differ-
ences with respect to the balance of language use generally, but
also across varied social contexts (see also, Gullifer, Chai,
Whitford, Pivneva, Baum, Klein & Titone, 2018; Gullifer &
Titone, 2018,2021a). This approach, based on Shannons
Entropy in Information Theory, reflects the linguistic compos-
ition, or overall balance of language use, across multiple commu-
nicative contexts. Generally, low entropy scores (i.e., near zero) are
indicative of high certainty (or low diversity) of some outcome,
whereas high entropy scores (i.e., near one) are indicative of low
certainty (or high diversity) of some outcome. In the context of
language, outcome is operationalized as the expected language
choice between the speaker and the people in their environment.
Thus, a bilingual who consistently uses a single language would
have low entropy, and their interactions should predictably
occur in that language. In contrast, a bilingual who regularly
uses their two languages in a balanced manner would have high
entropy, and the language of their interactions should be less
Across several papers, Gullifer and colleagues tested whether
language entropy successfully predicts different aspects of bilin-
gual language function, and whether it predicts different aspects
of general cognition (e.g., proactive or reactive executive control).
For example, Gullifer and Titone (2018) tested language entropy
in a resting state functional connectivity study of bilinguals.
Specifically, we examined the impact of language entropy in
predicting self-perceptions of L2 accentedness and L2 general
abilities for a large sample of younger bilinguals/multilinguals
(N = 507) in Montréal. Crucially, language entropy, which reflects
the social diversity of language use, significantly predicted these
outcome measures over and above the impact of our old friends,
L2 age of acquisition and L2 usage (see also Gullifer & Titone,
2021b, for a similar approach with a different sample that expands
the concept of language entropy to different communicative
domains and social contexts).
Gullifer and colleagues then linked the concept of language
entropy to cognitive measures outside the domain of language
specifically, proactive and reactive executive control. Gullifer
et al. (2018) showed that language entropy predicted the func-
tional connectivity within the resting brains of younger adults,
specifically among networks implicated in goal maintenance
and articulation. They further found that this connectivity was
On this point, another Keynote could be written describing the pros and cons of such
commonly used measures, and how they may compare to objectivemeasures that assess
real-time language function for particular modes of language function, for specific lan-
guages that the participants in a study may know (see critiques by Gollan,
Weissberger, Runnqvist, Montoya, & Cera, 2012; Surrain & Luk, 2019; Tomoschuk &
Lovelett, 2018). Subjective measures are routinely questioned for any number of reasons
that include the degree to which we have accurate access to their experiences (e.g., can we
actually recall the age they started acquiring literacy in a language?), the degree to which
we endorse experiences that may be seen as socially desirable (e.g., No, I never codes-
witch), and the degree to which our self-evaluations may be tainted by the default
group with whom we socially compare ourselves (e.g., a bilingual person residing in a
monolingual environment may see themselves as an Olympics-gold-medalist regarding
their linguistic abilities, whereas if that same person resided in a highly multilingual
environment, they may see themselves as barely good enough for the Olympic team).
While some researchers may be more trusting of objectivemeasures for these reasons,
they too have downsides in that they may only probe very circumscribed aspects of lan-
guage function (e.g., vocabulary knowledge) in a manner that may not generalize to other
aspects of language function (e.g., speed of picture naming, reading, pragmatic compe-
tence), or that may have poor test-retest reliability or other issues or methodological
standardization across labs. Additionally, in some contexts, individualsself-perceptions
of language experience may be more relevant in shaping their real-world language behav-
ior (e.g., someone with low objectiveproficiency in a language who is confident in their
abilities may engage with that language more than someone with high objectiveprofi-
ciency in the same language who is not confident in their abilities).
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in turn related to a form of cognitive control that relies on goal
maintenance, proactive control (as measured using the
AX-CPT). With respect to behavioral data, Gullifer and Titone
(2021b) showed that language entropy may have contributed stat-
istical signal as a predictor of proactive control (as measured using
the AX-CPT) in a younger bilingual sample. Finally, (Gullifer,
Pivneva, Whitford, Sheikh & Titone, under review) showed,
again among younger adults, that the degree to which people
mix their languages across social settings (using an alternative
measure highly correlated with language entropy) significantly
predicted reactive control for a language-based task (i.e., number
Stroop) but not for a nonlinguistic reactive control task (i.e.,
Simon task).
This body of work (reviewed in Gullifer & Titone, 2021a) sug-
gests that socially relevant aspects of how bilinguals distribute use
of their languages, when successfully quantified by language
entropy, can make it less challenging to pose and address ques-
tions of a sociocultural nature in a manner that is directly relevant
to leading theoretical accounts of bilingualism (e.g., the Adaptive
Control Hypothesis, Green & Abutalebi, 2013; see also,
Beatty-Martínez and Titone, 2021, for an account of individual
variability framed in terms of behavioral phenotypes). We are
encouraged by the inclusion of language entropy in one of the
most commonly used, freely available language history question-
naires (Li, Zhang, Tsai & Puls, 2014; Li et al., 2020) and that other
groups are now starting to adopt this measure (Sulpizio, Del
Maschio, Del Mauro, Fedeli & Abutalebi, 2020).
Thus, many ways now exist to gather and quantitatively char-
acterize socially relevant information about within-person bilin-
gual language experience. Nevertheless, the kinds of measures
in standard background questionnaires tend to only indirectly
approximate how people use language socially. Thus, we now
turn to the social language experiences people have when they
engage interpersonal interactions. This is referred to within the
Systems Framework of Bilingualism as Interpersonal Language
2. Interpersonal language dynamics (i.e., the experiences of
people interacting with other people).
The interpersonal nature of multilingual communication has long
been of interest from a social perspective, and has historically
appeared along the fringes of psycholinguistics. One example is
the field of figurative language (as well as many other facets of
pragmatic language), which could include a broad swath of lin-
guistic devices that people use to convey highly contextualized
meanings that hinge explicitly on the particular people with
whom we communicate within particular situations (e.g., irony,
sarcasm, metaphor, hyperbole, formulaic language, sense creation,
humor, etc.) (reviewed in a special issue on Albert Katzscontribu-
tions to non-literal language, co-edited by Buchanan, Pexman &
Titone, 2021). Other efforts within psycholinguistics also now
examine the interactions between two individuals through lan-
guage. Examples include the study of conversational interaction
and dyadic turn-taking (Beatty-Martínez, Valdés Kroff &
Dussias, 2018; Fricke & Kootstra, 2016; Kootstra, van Hell &
Dijkstra, 2010; Kootstra, Dijkstra & van Hell, 2020;Van
Berkum, van den Brink, Tesink, Kos & Hagoort, 2008), the inter-
active alignment of conceptual representations across people
(Garrod & Pickering, 2009), and more recently, the manner in
which language learning is filtered through others (Kaan,
Kheder, Kreidler, Tomić& Valdés Kroff, 2020; Raviv et al.,
2020). Also noteworthy is innovative work using social robotics,
where research participants perform psycholinguistic experiments
while engaged with a human-like social robot (Saryazdi, Nuque &
Chambers, 2019). Thus, many seeds have already been planted
with respect to the empirical study of Interpersonal Language
Dynamics that could be further extended and used to empirically
test a Systems Framework of Bilingualism.
Of note, a relatively untapped approach within psycholinguis-
tics pertains to the use of social network analysis and psycholin-
guistics (for several pioneering examples of this approach within
the cognitive sciences, please see Lev-Ari, 2018,2019; Vitevitch,
2019; as well as Borgatti, Mehra, Brass & Labianca, 2009; for an
overview of network analysis in the social sciences). Social net-
work analysis is a popular tool in sociology, and in recent years
has flourished across other disciplines, including computer sci-
ence, physics, and cognitive and developmental psychology
(Chen, Justice, Rhoad-Drogalis, Lin & Sawyer, 2020; Vitevitch,
2019). This specialized form of network analysis, whereby a sys-
tem is represented through nodes (entities) and edges (relation-
ships), centralizes people as nodes in a social system.
Relationships or information flow between people (alters) is con-
veyed through ties, which may transmit additional information
such as direction or weight (e.g., who seeks advice from whom,
how frequently do they interact, etc.). While a social network
approach provides granular insight about the overall composition
of the social environment (e.g., racial diversity, intergenerational
ties), many consider its real strength to be the unique insight it
lends on the STRUCTURE of the social network. This structure is pri-
marily constructed by elucidating third-party relationships
between alters. These indirect relationships, such as overall net-
work interconnectedness (density) or bridging capacity (central-
ity), bidirectionally shape and are constrained by cognition.
Depending on the needs and interests of the researcher, social
network surveys can be brief or extensive
For example, Lev-Ari published a brief social network survey
(Lev-Ari, 2017) that assesses basic, compositional aspects of com-
munication within ones social network, which is publicly avail-
able. In one interesting application, Kutlu and colleagues (Kutlu,
Tiv, Wulff & Titone, 2021b; see also Kutlu, Tiv, Wulff & Titone,
2022)administeredLev-Aris social network survey to respondents
who also completed an in-lab audio-visual sentence processing
task. In this task, participants were shown white or South Asian
faces alongside American, British, or Indian English accented audi-
tory recordings of sentences, and they were asked to transcribe and
rate the sentences on accentedness. Critically, the authors found
that the racial diversity of respondentssocial networks moderated
the extent to which they produced racially-biased responses in
accent perception.
The core concept underlying language-based social network
analysis, or the idea that language use systematically varies as a
function of with whom one is conversing, has been discussed
(outside the domain of social network analysis) for decades. For
example, Hoffman (1971) studied context-bound language use
by EnglishSpanish bilingual youth in New York, demonstrating
that linguistic practices differed between home and school life.
Further, within the home context, language use varied between
Crucially, the network science principles that underlie social network analysis can
also be leveraged in other important ways, as beautifully illustrated by a recent neuroima-
ging study of bilinguals, which used network science to delineate the neural correlates of
bilingual language processing (e.g., Fedeli, Del Maschio, Sulpizio, Rothman, & Abutalebi,
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children and their parents vs. siblings. Grosjean then developed
the Complementarity Principle (reviewed in Grosjean, 1982,
2015, p. 68), which states that Bilinguals usually acquire and
use their languages for different purposes, in different domains
of life, with different people. Different aspects of life require dif-
ferent languages.This idea, which may seem apparent to many
language scientists now, perfectly captures the message we aim
to convey in this section: bilingualism is a heterogenous mix of
experiences influenced by personal history, sociolinguistic
demands, and historical context. As much as no two multilinguals
are the same, language use within a multilingual can also system-
atically vary based on the characteristics, histories, and experi-
ences of their conversational partners.
In more recent work, social network analysis has been applied
to the dynamic interplay of how multiple languages are used on
Twitter. Kim, Weber, Wei, and Oh (2014) systematically mined
Tweets from three multilingual locales: Qatar, Switzerland, and
Quebec. Their results shed insight on how bilingual twitter
users functioned as critical bridges between monolingual twitter
users, as well as how bilingual twitter users distinctly engaged
their various languages to tweet about varying discourse topics.
Eleta and Golbeck, (2014) also tracked language choice across
bilinguals on Twitter, irrespective of region. They found evidence
supporting a continuum of network structure types for bilinguals
Twitter users, and compositional attributes of these networks
(e.g., proportion of L2 users in the network) predicted tweet-
based language choice. Their results indicated that bilinguals
were aware of the linguistic composition of their online social net-
work, and they harnessed this knowledge to inform their tweeting
language choice.
Inspired by these works, our group has begun to use social net-
work analysis in a manner that guided development of the Systems
Framework of Bilingualism. Specifically, we conducted social net-
work analysis of English and French bilinguals in Montréal who
completed an in-person social network survey of their real-world
contacts (Tiv et al., 2021; Tiv, Gullifer, Feng & Titone, 2020).
Respondents reported the language(s) that they used to converse
with each alter, and from these responses the authors constructed
three language-tagged subnetworks: English, French, and English-
French Bilingual. Results revealed that among the sample, proper-
ties of the English subnetwork, including network size, number of
components, alter centrality, and more, were greater than those of
the French subnetwork. Network properties of the Bilingual sub-
network generally matched those of the English subnetwork, but
exceeded those of the French subnetwork. Of interest, the
Bilingual subnetwork demonstrated the highest overall network
density, indicating that bilingual alters were more likely to be
interconnected among themselves than in either of the monolin-
gual language networks. Interestingly, people (i.e., egos) reported
feeling closer to their bilingual alters than any of their monolin-
gual alters. Together, these results suggest that bilingualism may
function as a salient social identity that cultivates in-group affili-
ation among other people in ones social network who are simi-
larly bilingual. However, the Bilingual subnetwork was not
predictive of peoples self-reported language behavior, whereas
both monolingual subnetworks were predictive of self-reported
language behavior and lexical word knowledge (though English
lexical word knowledge was only predicted by the French mono-
lingual subnetwork).
In related work that builds upon Grosjeans earlier explora-
tions of what bilinguals talk about (Grosjean, 1982,2010,2015),
our group applied network analysis to represent conversational
topics among bilinguals living in Montréal (where nodes repre-
sented an aspect of language, as opposed to a person) (Tiv
et al., 2020). We tested 115 English and French bilingual adults
with a questionnaire that probed what languages they used to
speak about twenty-one conversational topics (e.g., politics,
gossip) across five communicative contexts (e.g., home, school,
social). Two language networks and five context networks were
constructed, in which nodes represented conversational topics
and edges between two nodes indicated that two topics were dis-
cussed in the same language (language networks) or in the same
context (context networks). The results demonstrated that bilin-
guals use their dominant language to speak about more topics
across a wider variety of contexts. Moreover, all communicative
contexts displayed a unique pattern in which conversational
topics are discussed, but only a few communicative contexts
(work and social) display a unique pattern of how many lan-
guages are used to discuss particular topics. Lastly, using commu-
nity detection to thematically group the topics in each language,
we found evidence of greater specificity in the non-dominant lan-
guage than the dominant language (see Xu, Markowska,
Chodorow & Li, 2021 for a similar network representation of
words codeswitched between English and Chinese, which pre-
dicted the words were more or less likely to be codeswitched).
Together, these results underline the notion that bilinguals use
their various languages for specific, context-driven social commu-
nicative purposes.
Thus, many ways now exist to explore sociocultural and psy-
cholinguistic experiences of an interpersonal nature among bilin-
guals, referred to within the Systems Framework of Bilingualism as
Interpersonal Language Dynamics. Some of these have roots in
earlier research (e.g., figurative language, pragmatics, conversa-
tional interaction and alignment). Others are recently developed
innovative ways of approaching such questions (e.g., social net-
work analysis, social robotics). However, while directly addressing
interpersonal language dynamics represents to us an important
leap forward beyond a psycholinguistic tradition that typically
focusses within individuals, it still does not fully incorporate
ambient contextual influences or the important societal-level
effects that may be relevant to, and impact, ego-driven processes
and capacities. Thus, we next turn to the final two levels of socio-
ecological influence within our Systems Framework of
Bilingualism that is, ECOLOGICAL and SOCIETAL LANGUAGE
3. Ecological and societal language dynamics (i.e., experiences
at the neighborhood- and society-level).
Beyond within-person and interpersonal levels of analyses, lan-
guage behavior is constrained by higher order, ambient linguistic
patterns that emerge from the collective practices of individuals in
a region or society, described in some detail at the outset of the
paper. These dynamics may vary within a society (i.e.,
LANGUAGE DYNAMICS). While no multilingualism researcher would
deny this reality, again, the challenge arises from practical issues
in assessing and quantifying higher level societal dynamics in a
manner that that can be put to clean empirical use.
With respect to the first point, ecological dynamics can be
tracked within and across regions using publicly available data,
including census demographic statistics (e.g., Statistics Canada).
For example, Nagano (2015) explored the geographic distribution
and demographic characteristics of adult heritage language
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speakers across the United States based on data from the U.S.
Census. Similarly, they found substantial demographic differences
in the adult heritage language speakers who resided in distinct
regions of the country. Schott, Kremin, and Byers-Heinlein
(2019) examined rates of childhood bilingualism in Canada
using Canadian census statistics, which revealed interesting pat-
terns of multilingualism, such as higher rates of child multilin-
gualism within Canadian cities and northern regions. Despite
the descriptive nature of these two works, they both demonstrate
the sociological tools, including public census statistics, which
researchers of bilingualism can incorporate in their behavioral
research (Surrain & Luk, under review).
Gullifer and Titone (2019) used census data to evaluate lan-
guage entropy at a societal level as a means of qualitatively con-
ceptualizing individual level data acquired from that location.
Specifically, they computed language entropy across different
social contexts for Montréal, the Province of Québec, and all of
Canada using Statistics Canada census language demographic
data (i.e., mother tongue”“languages used in the homeand
languages used in the workplace). Interestingly, Montréal exhib-
ited greater language entropy than Québec generally, likely
because of the multilingual nature of the former and the monolin-
gual French nature of the latter. However, for home contexts,
Montréal resembled the rest of Canada in its low entropy, but it
was higher than the rest of Canada within work contexts. Thus,
the use of language entropy at a societal level led to several reveal-
ing features first, it painted an interesting and data-driven pic-
ture of the ecological context of a particular city, and second, it
did so using the same quantitative approach that can be used at
the level of individuals. While Gullifer and Titone (2019) did
not report how those two levels of analysis related to each
other, other work from our group has begun to statistically evalu-
ate the impact of one on the other.
Our emerging work guided by a Systems Framework of
Bilingualism capitalized on public census demographic data
from Statistics Canada (Tiv et al., in press). Specifically, we col-
lected census statistics pertaining to mother tongue of residents
inhabiting clusters of Montréals postal code regions. From
these population trends, we computed an overall index of
English use for each neighborhood, as well as an overall index
of French use. Additionally, we calculated language diversity for
each neighborhood using the Index of Qualitative Variation.
Critically, these three ecological variables were linked with
respondentsin-lab responses to a social network survey to deter-
mine the link between interpersonal and ecological linguistic
characteristics. Then, ecological and personal language-tagged
social network variables were entered into a factor analysis
model, which produced a factor structure consisting of independ-
ent factors for the three language-tagged personal subnetworks
and the ecological variables. Of interest, we found contextual
alignment between the personal and ecological factors (i.e., having
a stronger English personal subnetwork patterned with living in
an area with more prevalent English use and greater language
diversity). Additionally, we found consistent evidence that, in
addition to the strength of the language-tagged personal subnet-
works, this ecological factor also predicted self-reported language
The final layer of sociolinguistic influence in the Systems
Framework of Bilingualism we discuss is societal language dynam-
ics, or broad characteristics of unique regions. This characteriza-
tion offers insight on the linguistic patterns that systematically
vary across regions in a group-wise manner, as Beatty-Martínez
and colleagues elegantly demonstrated in their cross-regional
work. For example, Beatty-Martínez and Dussias (2017) investi-
gated, using event related potentials (ERPs), Spanish-English
bilinguals living in established codeswitching communities in
the United States vs. Spanish-English bilinguals living in
Granada Spain, who do not habitually codeswitch. For codes-
witchers, the ERP results showed that although rarely-observed
codeswitches were more difficult to process, codeswitches that
adhered to codeswitchersusage patterns did not incur electro-
physiological costs. In contrast, non-codeswitchers processed
both common and rare codeswitches with similar difficulty, sug-
gesting that they had not developed sensitivity to codeswitching
patterns in their linguistic experience. Thus, the processing of
codeswitched language largely depends on the type of codeswitch-
ing strategies available in their sociocultural environment.
Beatty-Martínez, Navarro-Torres, Dussias, Bajo, Guzzardo
Tamargo, and Kroll (2019) further showed that the impact of
ones sociocultural language experiences extends to nonlinguistic
executive control. Here, they contrasted three groups of highly
proficient Spanish-English bilinguals who lived in different lan-
guage environments in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Pennsylvania.
They found different links between language production abilities
and executive control strategies. For bilinguals in Spain, where
speakers expect to use Spanish almost exclusively, better produc-
tion performance patterned with increased reactive control per-
formance. For bilinguals in Puerto Rico, where interactional
costs are minimized, no patterns of association emerged.
Finally, for bilinguals in Pennsylvania, Beatty-Martínez et al.
(2019) found increased reliance on proactive control that related
to better production performance, consistent with the need to
actively monitor the environment for opportunities to speak
Spanish (i.e., context-specific language use). These different pat-
terns of association between language experience and executive
control suggest that the demands of ones sociocultural environ-
ment cannot be discounted, consistent with work from other
groups comparing interactional contexts and language-related
cognitive control among bilinguals (e.g., Beatty-Martínez &
Titone, 2021; Hartanto & Yang, 2016; Ooi, Goh, Sorace & Bak,
2018; Pot, Keijzer & De Bot, 2018; Zhang, Diaz, Guo & Kroll,
under review).
Kutlu and colleagues (2022) adopted a similar cross-regional
approach to their study of racially-biased perceptions of accented
speech by comparing bilingual samples in Montréal, Canada (i.e.,
a highly multilingual region where use of multiple languages is
generally viewed favorably) and Gainesville, USA (i.e., a small
college-town in central Florida where English dominates public
life and knowledge of other languages, such as Spanish, is stigma-
tized). Our results revealed interesting patterns of sentence tran-
scription between the two regions, specifically participants in
Gainesville produced more transcription errors when identical
auditory recordings were paired with South Asian faces, than
when they were paired with white faces. Critically, Montréalers
did not demonstrate racially-biased transcription errors between
the two face types. Together, these findings underscore the poten-
tial role of broad, ambient context on individualslanguage
When taking a broad view outside the language sciences, there
are many data sources and approaches that lend themselves to
empirically working within an ecological framework. First, data
can be collected across various sites. For instance, in 2014
Many Labs was launched as a collaborative effort to replicate
social psychological research by different research groups, many
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 9
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of whom are situated in unique regions (Klein, Ratliff, Vianello,
Adams Jr, Bahník, Bernstein, Bocian, Brandt, Brooks &
Brumbaugh, 2014). Though the initial goal of this collaboration
was to address the replication crisisin psychology, a fortuitous
by-product was that the psychological phenomena of interest were
being tested across diverse contexts, thus allowing an examination
of how internal cognitive processing manifested across varying
environmental constraints. Researchers of bilingualism can
adopt similar cross-regional approaches in data collection, and
some already have for language development (e.g., the productive
ManyBabies consortium, Byers-Heinlein, Bergmann, Davies,
Frank, Hamlin, Kline, Kominsky, Kosie, Lew-Williams, Liu,
Mastroberardino, Singh, Waddell, Zettersten & Soderstrom,
2020). This effort harkens back to MacWhinneys groundbreaking
efforts to crowdsource linguistic data in children and adults
(CHILDES, MacWhinney, 2000), and Batesefforts to create a
multilingual picture naming repository (Bates, DAmico,
Jacobsen, Székely, Andonova, Devescovi, Herron, Lu,
Pechmann, Pléh, Wicha, Federmeier, Gerdjikova, Gutierrez,
Tzeng, 2003). There are many other publicly available language
corpora spanning geographic regions that could be accessed, con-
veniently organized at sites like TalkBANK (again created by
MacWhinney, 2007), and also big data efforts such as the
English Lexicon project (Balota, Yap, Hutchison, Cortese,
Kessler, Loftis, Neely, Nelson, Simpson &, Treiman, 2007),
CompLex eye-movement database (Schmidtke, Van Dyke &
Kuperman, 2021), and GECO eye-tracking corpus (Cop, Dirix,
Drieghe & Duyck, 2017).
In cases where it may not be feasible to physically conduct
research cross-regionally, or where existing data repositories
may be lacking, online data collection may be useful (and has
been revolutionized methodologically, in response to the
COVID-19 pandemic). Popular platforms, such as Amazon
Mechanical Turk or Qualtrics, provide options to automatically
geo-tag the location of the respondents, allowing researchers to
explicitly probe where the experiment is taking place. Doing so
allows researchers to avail themselves of the rich public data
sources available through federal censuses, public records, or his-
torical data (e.g., Hehman, Ofosu & Calanchini, 2021). Despite
these strengths, online data collection presents its own set of chal-
lenges and limitations (e.g., Lefever, Dal & Matthíasdóttir, 2007),
and researchers must critically examine whether the samples they
tap into represent the diversity of the underlying population (e.g.,
socioeconomic status, geographic region, age, etc.). Similarly,
many language researchers are beginning to leverage geo-tagged
tweets to assess regional language attitudes or ideologies (e.g.,
Kutlu & Kircher, 2021; Vessey, 2021).
Thus, researchers interested in the social context of multilin-
gualism can now consider broader, ambient, and distal ecological
and societal characteristics. Within a region such as Montréal,
language use and household rates of multilingualism vary system-
atically as a function of what side of the island one lives on (e.g.,
French dominance on the East side and English dominance on
the West side). However, other locales demonstrate similar strati-
fication, including in conventionally non-linguistic attributes (e.g.,
socioeconomic status) which may in turn subtly influence neuro-
cognition and language processing. However, regions also vary
from one another in terms of the societal status of multilingual-
ism, and even in their regional policies that constrain language
use or offer educational services in one or more languages. We
encourage researchers to open their minds to these ecological
and societal sources of influence and continue to find creative
solutions to quantify these subtle dynamics. As such, we are not
disheartened by inconsistent findings tested across distinct locales,
as we believe these unique behavioral patterns merely reflect indi-
vidualsresponding to the unique challenges and demands of
their environments, rather than the robustness of the construct.
Moving forward
We hope to have convinced readers that people are embedded in a
dynamic, multilevel system of sociolinguistic context whereby dir-
ect personal interactions and ambient language exposure con-
strain their everyday language behavior. Perhaps more
importantly, we also hope to have offered theoretical and meth-
odological paths for posing and answering questions about such
phenomena, organized through the Systems Framework for
Bilingualism. While quantifying such abstract and complex char-
acteristics is undeniably challenging, we identified some of the
clever ways that researchers of bilingualism have begun to meas-
ure and incorporate these dynamics into their empirical efforts.
Interpersonal language dynamics can be grounded in compos-
itional and structural aspects of the social network, which
researchers have assessed using language entropy and (social) net-
work analysis. Higher-order societal dynamics, within a single
ecology or across distinct regions, may be assessed through census
demographic analysis, self-reported questionnaires, and direct
regional comparisons. We acknowledge that this is by no means
an exhaustive list, and we are eager to see what tools will be devel-
oped in the future to capture additional sociolinguistic variations.
Moreover, we have largely omitted empirical discussion of the
most distal layer of the Systems Framework for Bilingualism,
which has to do with systematic temporal constraints that are
operative either developmentally over the lifespan, or historically,
as discussed extensively in the introduction. Still, we are interested
in how other researchers have approached this domain.
Skeptical readers may ask whether these ambient, contextual
effects of bilingualslived social realities really have consequential
and observable impact on BEHAVIORS themselves. Our work (and
the work of our colleagues) suggests that the answer could be
yes. In one instance, Vlasceanu, Enz, and Coman (2018) advo-
cated that individualscognitive capacities, such as encoding
and recalling memories, have emergent properties at the commu-
nity level (i.e., cognition in social context). Accordingly, as indi-
viduals interact with others in their social networks, their
individual memories synchronize to shape societal collective
memory formation and vice versa. Other work has shown that
ambient exposure to linguistically diverse contexts aids in
perspective-taking behavior (Fan, Liberman, Keysar & Kinzler,
2015) and language learning (Bice & Kroll, 2019). As previously
mentioned, Gullifer et al. (2018), Gullifer and Titone (2021b),
and Gullifer et al. (under review) showed that language entropy
can impact both neural activity and cognitive performance across
a variety of linguistic and non-linguistic tasks. Other work by our
group shows that characteristics of English and French speaking
social networks can also predict lexical word knowledge, as mea-
sured by the LexTALE task (Tiv et al., in press).
Other newly emerging research from our group provides fur-
ther evidence that multi-layered social context constrains multi-
lingual behavior. We examined how structural characteristics of
bilingualssocial network associated with individual differences
in mentalizing, a social cognitive process of representing and rea-
soning about othersminds (Tiv et al., in press; Tiv et al., 2021).
10 Debra A. Titone and Mehrgol Tiv
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Specifically, we considered egosposition in their social network
and whether the presence or lack of third-party ties afforded
them unique opportunities to engage in mentalizing to broker
information between otherwise disconnected people (e.g., López,
2020). We found that more centrally positioned egos, who
bridged distinct language communities in the network, exhibited
better performance on a mentalizing task. Of interest, this pattern
was only detected among egos embedded in a linguistically
diverse environment (Montréal, Canada) but not in a linguistic-
ally homogenous environment (Gainesville, United States). We
interpreted this pattern of results from a cognitive flexibility view-
point, such that social experiences that increase exposure to
diverse perspectives (e.g., bilingualism, brokering information in
the network) over time challenge group-based inferences (i.e.,
stereotypes) and engage more effortful cognitive processing on
the internal thoughts and beliefs of others. Together, these results
speak to how individualssocial cognitive representations are
jointly shaped by their daily social experiences within their net-
work, as well as ambient demands of their broader sociolinguistic
society (see also Tiv et al., 2021;in press; Feng, Tiv, Kutlu,
Gullifer, Palma, ORegan, Vingron, Doucerain & Titone, 2021;
under review).
In terms of other practical steps researchers can take, as previ-
ously mentioned, one of the major impediments is how to quan-
tify complex social behavior in such a way that it can be
parsimoniously used to test predictions about individual cogni-
tion. To this end, we encourage language scientists to continue
to leverage advances in statistical modelling. For example, in
recent years, approaches such as mixed-effects regression model-
ling or multi-level modelling (MLM) have revolutionized the ways
in which psycholinguists can pose and answer questions about
complex language phenomena. This is because, at its core,
MLM accounts for any sort of grouping or clustering of data
points, which otherwise would violate the independence of obser-
vations criterion of traditional regression. Experimental language
researchers were historically most familiar with clustering at the
participant level (i.e., multiple observations from the same indi-
vidual) and item level (i.e., repeated measures designs), separately.
In these situations, using MLM to cluster by subject and item
accounts for group-level variance and allows generalizations
beyond the given sample and item-set. Of note, there are numer-
ous other ways that bilingualism researchers can leverage the
power of MLM that are not the norm. For example, language
researchers tend to focus on fixed effects within MLM models,
and to consider random effects in such models as experimental
error terms (i.e., thus the long-standing debates in the field
about maximal random effects structures (e.g., Barr, Levy,
Scheepers & Tily, 2013). However, as seen in papers outside psy-
cholinguistics (e.g., Otto, Skatova, Madlon-Kay & Daw, 2015), it is
possible for us to harness the power of random effects within
MLM to test hypotheses involving the interactions of multiple fac-
tors (see also Gries, 2021; Meteyard & Davies, 2020; Singmann &
Kellen, 2019; Staub, 2021; van Rij, Vaci, Wurm & Feldman, 2020).
Such endeavors could be highly useful when considering ways of
rigorously testing a Systems Framework of Bilingualism.
In addition, group-level variance can be quantified using other
statistical approaches that are not typical in our field, such as the
models Intraclass Correlation Coefficient (ICC), and this same
logic can be applied for other groupings to quantify contextual
effects of, for example, respondents living in different regions
(Otto et al., 2015). Of course, newer more sophisticated
approaches are always on the horizon (e.g., Generalized
Additive Models, GAMs, Miwa & Baayen, 2021, or Generalized
Structural Equation Component Analysis, GESCA, Hwang &
Takane, 2004), thus it behooves us to remain open to any and
all statistical innovations that enable us to pose and answer
increasingly sophisticated questions about language. As well, it
behooves us to let our questions take center stage in helping to
drive the creation of new statistical innovations. For example,
explicit causal modelling, a statistical approach that is common
within social psychology, but rarely used within the language
sciences, has been used to great effect to test questions about
the impact of bilingual experience on domain-general cognitive
control (e.g., Kałamała, Szewczyk, Chuderski, Senderecka &
Wodniecka, 2020). To this end, we believe that borrowing a
page from the social psychology playbook would be highly con-
structive to better understand the socioecological determinants
of bilingualism. However, on this point, we issue an important
word of caution to our readers. Specifically, our ability to success-
fully test examine the impacts of complex ecological and socio-
logical experiences on individual behavior requires that we are
fastidiously attentive to crucial issues regarding the internal and
external validity of our measures, which gate the degree to
which we can safely compare within and across populations
(Flake et al., 2021).
Taken together, a holistic, socially situated and contextualized
approach to bilingual neurocognition fills the gaps of traditional
assessments of individual differences (in which the source of vari-
ation is considered to be internally motivated) and lends deeper
insight into the rich complexities of real-world cognition.
Nevertheless, there are experimental and statistical challenges in
reaching this goal, and to this end, we have attempted to identify
cross-cutting statistical tools to aid in the journey. In addition, we
have reviewed the role that these complex dynamics play in
microlevel and macrolevel bilingual cognition and behavior, and
we are eager to see how other researchers take up the challenge
of socially contextualizing their study of bilingual neurocognition.
Final words
Multilingualism is a living, breathing, and ever-evolving phenom-
enon. Despite the obvious role played by socioecological forces in
shaping human experience of multilingualism (and by proxy, the
neurocognitive machinery of language), theoretical and empirical
efforts to characterize psycholinguistic processes in adults rou-
tinely ignore a social view of language, notwithstanding frequent
allusions to contextual factorsthat are often vaguely or narrowly
specified within any given study (including those conducted by
our own group). This self-perpetuating omission sends an implicit
but clear message that social factors are irrelevant to how mind
and brain represents and processes language, yet our lived experi-
ences and common sense tell us that nothing could be further
from the truth.
Rather, within adult psycholinguistics, popular controversies
rehash, in different guises, the old saw of whether human lan-
guage capacities are functionally isolated from, or interactive
with, domain-general cognitionwithin human brains.
Consider the staling bilingual advantages controversy that at its
core newly realizes modularity controversies of decades gone by
(reviewed in de Bot, 2017; de Bruin, Dick & Carreiras, 2021;
Sekerina, Spradlin & Valian, 2019; Titone & Baum, 2014;
CONTROVERSY, n. A battle in which spittle or ink replaces the injurious cannon-
ball and the inconsiderate bayonet.(Bierce, 1911).
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 11
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Vīnerte & Sabourin, 2019). Consequently, in the same way that
grammars around the world bias human attention towards par-
ticular real-world phenomena to the exclusion of others (e.g.,
Lewis & Lupyan, 2020) our disciplines perseverative focus on
how language loops in and around itself(Andresen & Carter,
2016, page 31) biases our attention away from how language
links us socially and cognitively to each other, and to the larger
society and cultures around us. This may lead us to miss crucial
discoveries about how bilingual or multilingual experiences
enrich, or are enriched by a variety of in-the-wild social and cul-
tural experiences. Thus, the import of so-called failures to repli-
cate cognitive phenomena of interest (e.g., the bitter fight over
the benefits of bilingualism, Yong, 2016) might be that language
use REALLY is socially-rooted, as certain cognitive strategies (e.g.,
proactive control) may be effective in responding to certain
social-environmental demands, but certainly not all (e.g., Bak,
2016; Gullifer & Titone, 2021b; Tiv et al., 2021; Tran,
Arredondo & Yoshida, 2019; van den Noort, Struys, Bosch,
Jaswetz, Perriard, Yeo, Barisch, Vermeire, Lee & Lim, 2019).
In closing, we hope this Keynote, and the commentaries it eli-
cits from colleagues within our discipline, engages a wide array of
researchers who are united under the broad umbrella of multilin-
gualism. These include researchers with neurocognitive expertise
who wish to better incorporate sociolinguistic and sociocultural
theories in their work, researchers within socio-linguistic or socio-
cultural traditions who wish to better illuminate how their find-
ings link to neurocognition, and applied scientists or policy
makers who wish for an enriched evidence base to make data-
driven decisions about social policy across a variety of real-world
settings. To this end, we stand reverentially on the shoulders of
historical figures in the cognitive and neural sciences like Marr
(1982), who outlined a new way of framing our approaches to
understanding complex cognition, and historical language science
(s)heroes such as Grosjean, Bates, and many others within bilin-
gualism who repeatedly nudged us to consider the social context
of language and bilingualism (Anderson et al., 2018;
Beatty-Martínez et al., 2019; Green, 2011; Green & Abutalebi,
2013; Kroll, Dussias, Bice & Perrotti, 2015; Kroll, Takahesu
Tabori & Navarro-Torres, in press; López et al., 2021; Luk &
Esposito, 2020; Ortega, 2020; Pliatsikas, DeLuca & Voits, 2020;
Surrain & Luk, 2019,under review; Vaid & Meuter, 2017). We
hope that the Systems Framework of Bilingualism offered here,
while preliminary and not perfect, can help us all think more con-
cretely and pragmatically about how to pose and answer psycho-
linguistic questions about language that are inclusive to diverse
sociocultural realities.
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