Understanding and speaking a human language is an automatic task which does not require an effort; indeed, our brains are particularly adapted for its performance. However, in doing so, we make use of a wide battery of mechanisms and types of knowledge. Learning and using a language requires the gathering not only of precise linguistic knowledge of each language but also of an enormous range of perceptual, attentional and decision-making resources, among others. Our research programme aims to explore how human language is acquired and processed, and to determine the relationship between this highly complex phenomenon and other cognitive skills. To this end, special attention will be paid to bilingual populations. From a purely theoretical perspective, bilingualism offers a unique and crucial opportunity to elucidate certain fundamental questions regarding brain plasticity or about the relationship between linguistic competence and other general cognitive mechanisms, all of which are key issues within the field of cognitive neuroscience. In order to achieve this objective we will take a multidisciplinary approach involving the coordinated efforts of researchers from different disciplines: psychologists, linguists, neuroscientists, physicists, information technologists and medical researchers. The different groups involved in the project cover all these scientific disciplines. One of the project’s central concerns is to consider not only the process through which a language or languages are acquired in a bilingual context, but also the implications that the use of two languages has for adult speakers in terms of both perception and production. To this end, two research lines will be followed: the first focuses on the initial periods of language acquisition, while the second considers aspects of representation and processing in adults, with attention being paid to elements related to individual differences. The second core interest of this project is centred on the mutual influence (at both the cognitive and neural levels) between bilingualism and other functions such as auditory perception, multi-sensory integration and executive control processes of attention. Addressing the phenomenon of bilingualism from such a broad perspective obviously requires a highly multidisciplinary approach. Therefore, this project is structured around several levels of analysis, ranging from low-level aspects related to neuronal dynamics, through electrophysiology and the analysis of behavioural phenomena to the implications for theoretical models of linguistics. The proposal is thus of critical importance at both the theoretical and practical levels. The proposal set out herein is unique and innovative for the following reasons:
* It takes advantage of the linguistic situation that is characteristic of Spain. This is especially relevant when one considers access to computer technology and current experimentation.
* It extends research into language processing (and in particular the processing of second languages) to the analysis of general processing mechanisms (perception, attention and decision making).
* It pays particular attention to development (the study is not restricted to adult populations but also considers babies and older adults/the ageing process).
The programme uses various types of methodologies and approaches:
* experimental study: using behavioural techniques, electrophysiological recording and neuroimaging (both functional and structural)
* theoretical formulation: in terms of both linguistics and computational neuroscience.
Although the participating teams have distinctive features, and specialise in different areas and techniques, they will take part in the different research lines in a complementary and coordinated way.