Yesterday afternoon, here at AAAS-2011, I attended a superb symposium: "Crossing Borders in Language Science: What Bilinguals Tell Us About Mind and Brain". Here's the abstract:
More people in the world are bilingual than monolingual. Historically, the component disciplines that comprise the language sciences have focused almost exclusively on monolingual speakers of a single language and largely on English as the universal language. In the past decade, there has been a shift in these disciplines to acknowledge the consequences of bilingualism for characterizing language, understanding the way languages are learned and used, and identifying the consequences of negotiating life in two languages for cognitive and brain processes. Recent studies show that bilingualism confers advantages to cognitive control at all stages of life, from infancy to old age; that contrary to popular belief, being exposed to two languages from early childhood does not create confusion but instead modulates the trajectory of language development; that signed and spoken languages produce a form of bilingualism that is similar to bilingualism in two spoken languages; and that the continual activity of both languages affects brain function and structure. Despite the excitement surrounding these discoveries, we do not understand how exposure to and use of two languages creates the observed consequences for bilingual minds and brains. Addressing these questions requires a language science that is both cross-disciplinary and international. The aim of this symposium is to illustrate the most exciting of these new discoveries and to begin to consider their causal basis.
There were six informative and thought-provoking presentations:
Janet F. Werker, University of British Columbia,"Perceptual Foundations for Bilingual Acquisition in Infancy"
Judith F. Kroll, Pennsylvania State University, "The Bilingual Is a Mental Juggler: Behavioral and Electrophysiological Evidence"
Karen Emmorey, San Diego State University, "Bilingualism Across Signed and Spoken Languages"
Teresa Bajo, University of Granada, "Variations in Inhibitory Control in Language Selection During Production and Comprehension"
Sonja A. Kotz, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, "The Impact of Cognitive Functions on Bilingual Processing: Neuroimaging Evidence"
Ellen Bialystok, York University, "Protective Effects of Bilingualism for Cognitive Aging and Dementia"
Unfortunately, unless you were among the 70-odd people in room 146A of the Washington Convention Center from 1:30 to 4:30 on Feb. 18, 2011, your options for getting at this information are now quite limited. You can contact the AAAS, send them $26 plus $2 shipping, and eventually receive an audio CD of the symposium — though without the slides, this experience will be somewhat frustrating. You can add "handouts" in .pdf format for $5 each — I'm not sure whether this is $5 per presentation or $5 per symposium; nor am I sure exactly how/where to get them, or whether you can count on finding them (no one has yet contacted me, as far as I know, about supplying the "handout" — i.e. the slides — for my own symposium presentation this afternoon).
So if you succeed in going through all the steps required to obtain the audio and the associated pdfs, you might be able to listen to the audio CD while paging through the pdf, and thus try to get at the content of this symposium. I don't know how many people actually do this, but I'd guess that the modal number per individual presentation will be zero or not far above it.
By my (probably inaccurate) count, this was one of 154 symposiums organized for AAAS 2011.
It's a darn shame, in my opinion, that the AAAS doesn't put videos of these symposiums on the web, along the lines of TED lectures and the like. If they did that, I feel that many of the presentations would deserve (and get) tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of views. I've made this suggestion to several people within AAAS, but since the cultural conservatism of American intellectuals is perhaps rivaled only by that of the Saudi religious authorities, I suspect that a few decades will pass before any such thing happens.
While you're waiting, you can use the clues in a symposium announcement to look for relevant content that does happen to be available on line. Thus for the last of the six talks in yesterday's "What Bilinguals Tell Us About Mind and Brain" symposium, you could look here or here or here. If I have time, I'll summarize some of this work in a later post.