Cases of language loss and recovery bring up an intriguing paradox. If two languages are stored in the brain, how can it be that a person can lose one of them, but not the other, and then gain one back without relearning it? The traditional models of how a language is represented in the brain suggest that languages can become inaccessible, even though they are not entirely lost. As the author demonstrates through fascinating cases, stress--whether due to foreign language immersion, sleep deprivation, or brain damage--can lead to the apparent loss of one language, but not the other. Arturo Hernandez presents the results of 25 years of research into the factors that might help us to understand how two (or more) languages are stored in one brain. It is clear that the brain is not egalitarian--some languages are privileged and others are not, but why?
Hernandez will extend recent work that has begun to take a biological or natural systems approach. He proposes that, in bilinguals, two languages live inside a brain almost like two species live in an ecosystem. For the most part they peacefully co-exist and often share resources. But they also compete for resources, particularly when under stress. Although there are still many questions to answer and many puzzles to solve, Hernandez argues that the nonlinear dynamical models, which have been used to uncover the underlying mechanisms seen in natural systems and more recently in language and cognition, can be used to shed considerable light on the neural bases of bilingualism.
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Arturo Hernandez is currently Professor of Psychology and Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience graduate program at the University of Houston. He received his PhD in Cognitive Science and Psychology from the University of California, San Diego in 1996 working with Elizabeth Bates, one of the premier developmental psychologists in the world. His major research interest is in the neural underpinnings of bilingual language processing and second language acquisition in children and adults. He has used a variety of neuroimaging methods as well as behavioral techniques to investigate these phenomena which have been published in a number of peer reviewed journal articles. His research is currently funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. Hernandez's interest in language learning has also been informed by having learned four languages at various points during his life. He learned Spanish and English simultaneously as a child, spending the school year at home in California and each summer in Mexico. At the age of 20, he spent two years in Brazil during which he became fluent in Portuguese. His more recent visits to Germany have the added benefit of lending personal insight into language learning well beyond the college years.
"...provides a sense of wonder in the remarkable capacity that humans have to learn more than one language. It combines the neuroscience of bilingualism with historical, personal, and autobiographical perspectives that relay the experience and study of bilingualism in a humorous way, inspiring interest while intellectually challenging the reader. We learn about cognitive and neuroimaging approaches to understanding language, the impact of the age that language is acquired, the hours of practice required to be a language expert, and
the phenomenally complex cognitive control required to switch effectively between
languages. By comparing the complexities of language and neuroanatomy with expertise
and knowledge of other important human skills, Dr. Hernandez's exposition on the
bilingual brain convinces us how interesting and entertaining neuroscience can be."-- Cathy Price, Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London
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