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Pragmatics and inhibition in bilingual children (Slawny et al., 2022)

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posted on 2022-09-28, 19:02 authored by Caitlyn Slawny, Kimberly Crespo, Susan Ellis Weismer, Margarita Kaushanskaya

Purpose: There is conflicting evidence regarding effects of bilingualism on inhibition, and the mechanisms that might underlie the effects remain unclear. A prominent account views additional demands on structural language use in bilinguals as being at the root of bilingual effects on inhibition. In this study, we tested the novel hypothesis that social-pragmatic skills (alone or together with structural language skills) are associated with inhibition in bilingual children.

Method: Parents of 114 typically developing 8- to 11-year-old Spanish–English bilingual children completed the Children’s Communication Checklist–Second Edition to index social pragmatics and the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function to index executive functioning skills. The Inhibit clinical scale score reflected children’s inhibition. Children’s language ability was indexed by the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals–Fourth Edition in English and Spanish. Length of bilingualism was operationalized continuously as the length of time children had been exposed to both languages in their lifetime. Moderation analyses tested the effects of structural language, social-pragmatic skills, and length of bilingual experience, and their interactions on inhibition.

Results: While structural language skills were not associated with inhibition, they moderated the relation between social-pragmatic skills and inhibition, such that children with better social-pragmatic skills demonstrated better inhibition, and this effect was stronger for children with better structural language skils. Furthermore, longer length of bilingual experience was associated with better inhibition, and this effect was not moderated by any other predictor.

Conclusion: These results confirm a graded relationship between bilingualism and inhibition, and indicate that this association is not qualified by structural language or social-pragmatic skills.

Supplemental Material S1. Correlation table.

Slawny, C., Crespo, K., Ellis Weismer, S., & Kaushanskaya, M. (2022). Social-pragmatic skills and length of bilingualism predict inhibitory control in children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication.


This research was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants R01 DC011750 and R01 DC016015.