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Linguistic diversity, multilingualism, and cognitive skills: A study of disadvantaged children in India

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Tsimpli, IM 
Vogelzang, Margreet  ORCID logo
Balasubramanian, A 
Marinis, T 
Alladi, S 


jats:pMultilingualism and linguistic diversity are the norm in India. Although studies have shown a relation between bilingualism and cognitive gains, linguistic diversity has so far been ignored as a potential factor affecting cognitive skills. This study aims to fill this gap by examining how cognitive skills—as measured by the n-back and Raven’s Colored Progressive Matrices tasks—are affected by multilingualism and/or sociolinguistic diversity in a large cohort of socioeconomically disadvantaged primary school children in two urban sites of India: Delhi and Hyderabad. We present a questionnaire estimating sociolinguistic diversity and show that this measure assesses a distinct construct, as compared to a child’s multilingualism. Children were classified as growing up monolingually or bilingually, depending on whether they grew up with one or more languages in the home. Regarding cognitive performance, bilinguals were found to outperform monolinguals on the n-back task, as well as on the Raven’s task. In addition, a socially and linguistically diverse environment seems to enhance cognitive performance for children who are not multilingual themselves. Finally, several contextual factors such as city were found to influence cognitive performance. Overall, this shows that cognitive tasks are subject to contextual effects and that bilingualism and linguistic diversity can enhance cognitive performance of children in disadvantaged contexts.</jats:p>



bilingualism, linguistic diversity, cognition, working memory, fluid intelligence, disadvantaged contexts, socio-economic status

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Economic and Social Research Council (ES/N010345/1)