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The effects of aging on bilingual language: What changes, what doesn't, and why

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 August 2020

Jana Reifegerste
Potsdam Research Institute for Multilingualism, University of Potsdam, Germany Brain and Language Laboratory, Department of Neuroscience, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA


Substantial research has examined cognition in aging bilinguals. However, less work has investigated the effects of aging on language itself in bilingualism. In this article I comprehensively review prior research on this topic, and interpret the evidence in light of current theories of aging and theories of bilingualism. First, aging indeed appears to affect bilinguals’ language performance, though there is considerable variability in the trajectory across adulthood (declines, age-invariance, and improvements) and in the extent to which these trajectories resemble those found in monolinguals. I argue that these age effects are likely explained by the key opposing forces of increasing experience and cognitive declines in aging. Second, consistent with some theoretical work on bilingual language processing, the grammatical processing mechanisms do not seem to change between younger and older bilingual adults, even after decades of immersion. I conclude by discussing how future research can further advance the field.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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