Emanuel Bylund

Bilingualism and age of acquisition in second language attainment

Saturday March 14th 9:00 – 10:00

Emanuel Bylund


The role of age of acquisition for second language learning has been studied and debated for half a century. New impetus to this question was recently provided with the idea that second language speakers can actually never be expected to behave like native speakers, simply because they are bi-/multilingual. A logical extension of this argument is that any non-nativelike behaviour found in early second language learners should be ascribed to their bi-/multilingualism, rather than to their age of acquisition. In this talk, I consider the importance of this suggestion for research on age effects, focusing particularly on its conceptual assumptions and its empirical evidence. I propose that while the bi-/multilingualism suggestion seems to point to a glaring omission in the study of age effects, its original premise is questionable, and the evidence to date only provides mixed support. I also discuss whether the largely monolingual contexts in which existing research on age effects has been carried out may have contributed to giving birth to the idea of bi-/multilingualism effects


Emanuel Bylund is Professor of General Linguistics at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. His research concerns age effects in language acquisition and language attrition, and the role of linguistic categories for the cognitive processing of reality. His work has covered languages such as Afrikaans, German, Spanish, Swedish, and isiXhosa, and has appeared in outlets such as Applied Linguistics, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Cognition, Developmental Science, and Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. He is the founding member of the African Psycholinguistics Association, and director of the Multilingualism and Cognition Laboratory at Stellenbosch University.