Here, n represents the total possible languages (two in the present study) and Pi represents the proportion associated with the use of a given language. The proportion of L1 and L2 use for each bilingual was quantified on the basis of the self-reported language use data. Means and standard deviations for the predictors are provided in the Table 3.
Table 3: Descriptive statistics for the predictors
Predictors N Mean SD
Gender male – 22
female – 38 – –
Age 60 31.92 4.45
Typological proximity/distance Germanic – 11
non-Germanic – 49
Onset age of active bilingualism 60 21.33 7.83
Language proficiency 60 17.50 1.46
Language entropy 60 .64 .35
Note. Gender: 1 = male, 0 = female. Age and onset age in years. Typological proximity/distance: 1 = Germanic languages, 0 = non-Germanic languages. Language proficiency on a 20-point scale (0 = no proficiency in each of the languages, 20 = high proficiency in both languages). Language entropy on a 1-point scale (0 = only one language is used, 1 = each language is used equally).
Given a statistically significant correlation between language proficiency and language entropy, r = .50, p < .001, we created two base-line models. Both contained gender, age, typological proximity/distance and onset age of active bilingualism. However, one had language proficiency and the other included language entropy. Following that, we performed multiple regressions with backward elimination using the regsubsets function. The results of the analyses showed that the best-fitting model among all for the sentence-judgement task items was the one with language proficiency among the predictors (see Table 4).
Table 4: The best-fitting models showing the capacity of language variables to predict the sentence-judgement task items
Variables B SEB t Sig.
Gm: R2 = 37.5%, p < .001
ΔR2= 37.6%, p < .001
Typological proximity/distance -1.52 .39 -3.86 .001
Onset age of active bilingualism -.08 .02 -2.64 .05
Language proficiency .45 .14 3.13 .01
gM: R2 = 29.3%, p < .001
ΔR2= 26.8%, p < .001
Typological proximity/distance -.71 .39 -1.81 .05
Language proficiency .62 .14 4.29 .001
gm: R2 = 15.8%, p < .001
ΔR2= 14.3%, p < .001
Language proficiency .56 .17 3.3 .001
Note. Onset age of active bilingualism in years. Typological proximity/distance: 1 = Germanic languages, 0 = non-Germanic languages. Language proficiency on a 20-point scale (0 = no proficiency in each of the languages, 20 = high proficiency in both languages).
In the case of gm, language proficiency was the only predictor in the model (R2 = 15.8%, p < .001). As the bilinguals’ language proficiency increased by one point on a 10-point scale, their gm scores increased by .56 points. In the case of gM and Gm, the best model contained more than one predictor. In addition to language proficiency, the best model for gM included typological proximity/distance (R2 = 29.3%, p < .001); whereas the best model for Gm contained language proficiency, typological proximity/distance and onset age of active bilingualism (R2 = 37.5%, p < .001). In both cases, the participants whose L1 belonged to the Germanic language family performed better (gM: B = .71, p < .05; Gm: B = 1.52, p < .001). The bilinguals also obtained higher scores as their language proficiency increased by one point on a 10-point scale (gM: B = .62, p < .001; Gm: B = .45, p < .01). In the case of Gm, the participants’ scores furthermore increased by .08 points as their onset age of active bilingualism decreased by one year. As for the GM items, none of the models explained the variance in the scores, p > .05.
4. Discussion and conclusion
The study tested linguistically diverse bilingual adults residing in Australia on the sentence-judgement task measuring two metalinguistic skills, i.e. the analysis of linguistic knowledge and the control of attentional procedures. This was done to investigate: (1) which combination of bilingual experience (if any) – typological proximity/distance, onset age of active bilingualism, language proficiency and language entropy – accounts for the variance in bilinguals’ metalinguistic performance, and 2) the extent to which each variable in the combination contributes to explaining the variance in the participants’ metalinguistic skills.
The results of the study showed that variance in participants’ metalinguistic performance was related to differences in their bilingual experience. Specifically, the model with with language proficiency among the predictors accounted for the most variance in metalinguistic scores. According to the data, language proficiency was predictive of the participants’ performance on all the sentence-judgement task items: higher levels of language proficiency were related to higher scores. The use of two typologically closer languages further contributed to better performance on the task items requiring the highest level of analysis (gM), and together with an earlier onset of active bilingualism, it was also related to higher scores on the task items placing the greatest burden on control (Gm).
Consistent with recent studies, our research suggests that particular dimensions of bilingual experience rather than bilingualism per se are linked to bilingual advantages (Bialystok and Barac, 2012; Gullifer et al., 2018; Khodos and Moskovsky, 2020). However, our study is unique in that it provides insight into dimensions of bilingual experience which may boost and further maintain enhanced (meta)linguistic skills in adults. In particular, the results of the multiple regression and correlation analyses suggest that bilinguals who have equally used two languages in the same contexts but with different speakers are more likely to obtain/maintain higher levels of proficiency in both languages, which, in turn, may be related to enhanced analysis skills. When combined with the use of two typologically closer languages and an earlier onset of active bilingualism, higher language proficiency may furthermore allow bilinguals to experience advantages in control skills.
Given that most of the previous studies have not considered the inter-individual variability in bilingual experience while interpreting their participants’ metalinguistic performance, it is quite difficult to reconcile the present findings with the wider literature on metalinguistic awareness. Among the variables explored in the present study, the role of the typological proximity/distance between L1 and L2 appears to have received the least attention. This might stem from the fact that most previous research has worked with participants that were linguistically homogeneous – same L1 and same L2. However, even when the participants varied in their language pairs, the researchers did not control for the typological proximity/distance variable in their studies. Our findings, therefore, extend the previous metalinguistic studies and call for a need to focus more research attention on the individual features of bilingual experience and the ways they interplay with language and other cognitive domains (for related ideas, see de Bruin, 2019; Khodos et al., 2020; Laine and Lehtonen, 2018).
The need for further research notwithstanding, the present study contributes clearly to our understanding that bilingual experience can offer advantages that extend beyond language. These benefits, as a result, can have socially relevant consequences for educational attainment and future socioeconomic success. In the context of multicultural Australian, this underscores the importance of introducing suitably designed educational, social and political policies encouraging bi-/multilingualism and creating the best possible setting/environment for learning and using two/multiple languages. Establishing language learning programmes and promoting social practices that maintain and further develop Indigenous and community languages seems particularly desirable. Along other bi-/multilingual practices, this may have serendipitous benefit of improving the social and cognitive health of multicultural Australia.
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