Why a Bilingual is not the Sum of two Monolinguals (and, by the way, do real Monolinguals still exist?) by Prof Antonella Sorace


Title of talk:

Why a bilingual is not the sum of two monolinguals (and, by the way, do real monolinguals still exist?)


Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • Bi/multilinguals in society are often expected to behave like monolinguals in each of their languages
  • Research shows that this expectation is wrong because:
  • The native language changes as a result of learning another language
  • Aspects of thinking change when the brain deals with multiple languages
  • Even passive exposure to multilingual communities can change monolingual behavior


A few paragraphs on your subject:

How people learn languages at different ages; the linguistic and cognitive effects of knowing more than one language. The concept of ‘native monolingual speaker’ has traditionally shaped both the scientific and the public understanding of bilingualism. Developmental stages and features of bilinguals are still often defined in terms of distance (“non-native”, “near-native”, “native-like”) or differences (‘advantages’ or ‘disadvantages’) with respect to native monolingual norms.


Bilinguals at all ages, at least in Western societies, are often tested with educational and diagnostic metrics originally based on monolingual standards. I will show how recent interdisciplinary research that combines the strengths of linguistic, cognitive and social models questions the notion of the ‘monolingual speaker’ as a default point of reference, and the expectation that bilinguals should behave like monolinguals in each of their languages. This, in turn, opens up new ways of understanding, valuing and promoting bilingualism in any languages.


A few paragraphs about you:

I do research on multilingualism over the lifespan from a linguistic and cognitive perspective. I’m also active in public engagement of research through the centre I founded, Bilingualism Matters, which has a wide international network of 33 branches in four continents. Antonella Sorace is Professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh.


She is internationally known for her interdisciplinary research on bilingualism across the lifespan, and for her commitment to building bridges between research and society. She is the founding director of the non-profit organisation Bilingualism Matters, which currently has 33 branches in four different continents. For more information and learning resources visit my website below.


What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend?

The Bilingualism Matters website has a few:




What are your weblinks?

Website – www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~antonell/


Twitter – @AntoSorace

Facebook – www.facebook.com/antonella.sorace.33

Public Email – [email protected]


This event took place on 25th June 2023 at The Outhouse (12A Broughton Street Lane, Edinburgh)