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What is special about L3 processing?*

  • KEES DE BOT (a1) and CAROL JAENSCH (a2)


While research on third language (L3) and multilingualism has recently shown remarkable growth, the fundamental question of what makes trilingualism special compared to bilingualism, and indeed monolingualism, continues to be evaded. In this contribution we consider whether there is such a thing as a true monolingual, and if there is a difference between dialects, styles, registers and languages. While linguistic and psycholinguistic studies suggest differences in the processing of a third, compared to the first or second language, neurolinguistic research has shown that generally the same areas of the brain are activated during language use in proficient multilinguals. It is concluded that while from traditional linguistic and psycholinguistic perspectives there are grounds to differentiate monolingual, bilingual and multilingual processing, a more dynamic perspective on language processing in which development over time is the core issue, leads to a questioning of the notion of languages as separate entities in the brain.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Kees de Bot, Department of Applied Linguistics, University of Groningen, Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat 26, 9712 EK Groningen, The Netherlands


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The authors are grateful to Peter Ecke, Michel Paradis and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this contribution. Sincere thanks also go to the delegates of the conference Third Language Acquisition: A Focus on Cognitive Approaches, held in Vitoria-Gasteiz in May 2012, for insightful observations on the first presentation of this paper.



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