My Research

Main Research

The effects of childhood bilingualism and bi-dialectalism on language and cognition

Postdoctoral research

In my postdoctoral research I work as part of the BiBi project (The impact of bilingualism and bi-dialectalism on cognitive and linguistic development) led by Dr Napoleon Katsos at the University of Cambridge and Dr Mikhail Kissine at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB).  Dr Alma Veenstra is also a postdoctoral collaborator based at the ULB.  The project is funded by the Wiener-Anspach Foundation in Belgium and the Isaac Newton Trust Fund in Cambridge.

This research programme has two main goals.  First, to establish whether the previously-reported effects of bilingualism/bi-dialectalism on language, pragmatics, and cognition generalise to new groups of bilingual/bi-dialectal children growing up in a different sociolinguistic context (Belgium) and speaking a different set of languages/dialects than previously tested.  Finally, to more closely examine the role of typological distance between the language pairs spoken by bilinguals on these effects.

Please, visit the project’s website for more information.

Doctoral research

In the main part of my doctoral thesis I examined how bilingualism and bi-dialectalism affect children’s lexical and executive control skills, and their ability to understand implied meanings (implicatures).  Executive control (EC) refers to a heterogeneous cluster of cognitive skills that are considered to underlie flexible, goal-directed behaviour and according to an influential account proposed by Miyake and colleagues (Miyake and collaborators, 2000, in Cognitive Psychology) comprises three main cognitive processes: switching (the ability to flexibly switch between tasks, rules, representations, etc.), inhibition (the ability to focus attention and ignore irrelevant information) and working memory (the skill to simultaneously maintain and manipulate information in mind).

You can find the publications related to my PhD work on bilingualism and bi-dialectalism in the following links:

Bilingualism, pragmatics, and cognition in children with autism

This is another project I am currently working on as part of a Wiener-Anspach Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the Université libre de Bruxelles.  This research is conducted in collaboration with Dr Napoleon Katsos (University of Cambridge) and Dr Mikhail Kissine (Université libre de Bruxelles) and is part of a wider project on autism (“Autism in Context: Theory and Experiment”) led by Dr Mikhail Kissine at the Université libre de Bruxelles.   It aims to investigate how bilingualism and autism interact to affect children’s pragmatic-communicative and non-linguistic cognitive skills.

You can read more about the wider project on autism at the Université libre de Bruxelles by visiting the project’s website.

Other Projects

The cognitive foundations of pragmatic development

In another line of research I am exploring the cognitive underpinnings of pragmatic-communicative development.  Despite discussions in the literature, the basic cognitive skills that contribute to successful pragmatic understanding in children are still not well understood.

In this research I have investigated the relation between implicature understanding and cognitive factors such as language proficiency, Theory of Mind (the ability to understand that people have their own beliefs, intentions, goals that guide their behaviour and that might be different from our own or from reality), and executive control in large samples of Greek-speaking and English-speaking children.  Additional data from Dutch-speaking children has been now collected as part of the BiBi project.

Part of this research is presented in the following papers.

A summary of a research proposal on this topic submitted together with Napoleon Katsos, Kleanthes Grohmann, and Maria Kambanaros and funded by the EURO-XPRAG collaborative network can be found here.

The processing of scalar implicatures and individual differences that affect their comprehension in adults

In collaboration with Napoleon Katsos and Chris Cummins we explored how adult participants process scalar implicatures (SIs), and the cognitive and personality factors that affect their comprehension.  Scalar implicatures (e.g. the inference from “some Fs are G” to “not all Fs are G”) are a specific type of inferences which are based on Grice’s maxim of quantity and on the understanding that since a speaker used one term (e.g. “some”) instead of an alternative term (e.g. “all”), s/he must mean that the alternative term does not hold (i.e. “not all”).

We analysed adults’ reaction times and accuracies in a binary judgment task where they had to judge the truth or falsity of under-informative, true and informative, and false sentences, and their performance in an extensive battery of cognitive (working memory, inhibition, non-verbal fluid intelligence and verbal intelligence) and personality measures (Big Five Inventory and Autism Spectrum Quotient).

This research is presented in the following papers.

The processing of irony

In this project, which is conducted in collaboration with Gaétane Deliens and Mikhail Kissine at the Universiité libre de Bruxelles, we aim to investigate how adult participants comprehend ironic statements, how the processing of irony is affected by different cues (intonation, facial expression, context, perspective-taking information) and whether (and how) the process of interpreting irony differs in autistic individuals.

Off-site and internet-based linguistic and executive functions research in bilingual children

This was a cross-departmental collaborative project within the University of Cambridge funded by the Cambridge Humanities Research Grant Scheme and led by Dr Napoleon Katsos, Dr Theodora Alexopoulou, Dr Henriette Hendriks, Dr Teresa Parodi, Dr Brechtje Post (Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics), Dr Claire Hughes (Department of Social and Developmental Psychology), and Dr Michelle Ellefson (Faculty of Education).  Within this project we also collaborated with Education First English Teaching Company (one of the largest English-teaching companies worldwide) who agreed for one of their schools in Shanghai to participate in our study and hosted me there for three weeks.

As part of this project, large samples of bilingual and monolingual children were recruited from four testing sites (Cambridge, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, and Mexico) and tested in various linguistic, pragmatic, and cognitive measures.

A poster reporting part of the data from this project was presented at the conference Language Sciences in the 21st Century: The Interdisciplinary Challenge:

Antoniou, K., Parodi, T., Post, B., Hendriks, H., Alexopoulou, T., Hughes, C., Ellefson, M., Pushparatnam, A., Landt, J., Katsos, N. (2013, October).  What is the source of the multilinguals’ advantage in deriving pragmatic implicatures?  Poster presented at the Language Sciences in the 21st century: The interdisciplinary challenge conference, Cambridge, UK.

The development of a comprehensive test on children’s ability to understand implicatures

ImplicatureImplicature understanding is an important, and perhaps the most sophisticated, aspect of children’s pragmatic-communicative competence.  It is a skill that is routinely employed in conversation, and hence it is necessary for children’s everyday social and communicative functioning.  Currently, however, there is no test available that extensively measures all facets of this ability in children.

Together with Napoleon Katsos, we are interested in developing a comprehensive test on children’s ability to understand implicatures that will be suitable for use with children of a wide age range (4-12 years) and of diverse linguistic backgrounds.  The theoretical basis of this test is Grice’s (1989) theory of conversation.

A first PowerPoint version of the test has been designed as part of my PhD studies. A description of this version and the theory on which it is based can be found in my PhD dissertation.  A new, improved version of the test, which includes items on the comprehension of more types of implicatures (e.g. irony) and designed on E-Prime to automatically record accuracy and reaction times, has now been implemented as part of my postdoctoral research.  It is currently used to collect data from Dutch-speaking children in Belgium and the Netherlands.  The new version includes items on the comprehension of implicatures based on all of Grice’s maxims of conversation (quantity, relevance, manner, and quality).  Currently, it is available in Dutch.