Bilinguals are better at detecting grammatical illusions



Bilinguals are better than monolinguals at finding loopholes in some sort of grammatical trick. This observation was confirmed in an experiment carried out by researchers from URV, the University of Tromsø – The University of the Arctic of Norway and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who propose a new approach to debate on the pros and cons of bilingualism: a good performance in one linguistic domain may mean a precision or a lower speed in another, and vice versa.

The impact of bilingualism or plurilingualism on neural connectivity, brain activity, and behavior is an issue that neuroscientists, psychologists, and linguists have been studying for decades, as it generates an intense debate about the pros and cons of bilingualism. Now, an experiment conducted by researchers from Universitat Rovira i Virgili, University of Tromsø – Norwegian Arctic University and Norwegian University of Science and Technology studied people’s responses bilingual and unilingual when reading grammatical illusions, a category of manipulative speech. which deceives the mind by leading it to accept constructions which make no sense. The results of the experiment necessarily changed the debate on bilingualism.

A total of 276 people participated in the study: half were monolingual in Greek and the other half were bilingual in Greek and one Germanic language. They were asked to declare whether the grammatical constructions presented to them were correct, incorrect, or neither correct nor incorrect. Analysis of the results showed that the bilingual participants got a higher percentage of correct answers, but also needed more time to detect if there were any anomalies.

More precisely, bilinguals detected 56% of grammatical illusions, while monolinguals detected only 39%. This means that bilingual people are better able to detect manipulation in a speech. However, they need more time to find an answer, especially when they see that what is presented to them may not be correct. In the test, it took an average of 2 milliseconds to declare a grammatical construct to be “correct” and 70 milliseconds to declare it “incorrect”.

The results were published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE and researchers Evelina Leivada (URV), Natalia Mitrofanova (University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway) and Marit Westergaard (University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway and the Norwegian University of science and technology) underline the need to change the focus of the debate around the advantages and disadvantages of bilingualism.

“Better performance in one area is offset by a decrease in accuracy or speed when performing one task in another; therefore, we need to replace the concepts of advantage and disadvantage with the concept of multilingual adaptive compensation. In other words, the cognitive abilities of bilinguals can increase their ability to detect erroneous constructions, but this is part of a larger set of effects resulting from their bilingualism, which are not all necessarily advantageous ”, concludes Evelina Leivada, researcher. at the URV Department of English and German Studies.


Leivada E, Mitrofanova N, Westergaard M. Bilinguals are better than monolinguals at detecting manipulative speech. PLOS ONE. 2021; 16 (9): e0256173. do I:10.1371 / journal.pone.0256173

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