Abertay University researchers have discovered that being fluent in a dialect, like Dundee Scots or Ayrshire Scots in addition to Standard English is as good for your brain as being fluent in two different languages like, say, English and French.
It seems it’s to do with the ‘switch cost’ or the effort your brain makes in switching from one language to another or to just another dialect. It turns out it’s the same either way and thus potentially equally as beneficial for the brain.
On a personal note, I can switch from academic English back to Bairnese (Falkirk dialect) when I’m with my rellies without being aware on any cost. Are the cost in milliseconds?
Co-researchers found the same thing in Germany with speakers of the Öcher Platt dialect in Aachen.
What are the benefits then? Well it’s a widely held belief that bilinguals have improved cognitive powers and might even be less prone to dementia. However, back in 2014, the same team at Abertay were quite sceptical about this and questioned the research methods used by psychologists to suggest there were benefits. Here’s what they did and what they found:
‘They compared cognitive control in a group of people who switch between speaking the very distinctive Dundonian dialect and Standard Scottish English, with cognitive control in two other groups: those who speak two languages, and those who speak only one. To their great surprise, their research produced some wholly unexpected results, contradicting everything they thought they knew: the bilingual control groups performed no better in the cognitive task than those who spoke only one language and those who spoke in a dialect. There were no differences whatsoever.’
I’m confused. So, one language plus one dialect is as good for your brain as two languages are but the benefits, either way, are probably overrated?
And, maybe it’s even bad for you and for those listening to you! See this from the Dana Foundation in 2012:
‘Having to deal with this persistent linguistic competition can result in language difficulties. For instance, knowing more than one language can cause speakers to name pictures more slowly and can increase tip-of-the-tongue states (where you’re unable to fully conjure a word, but can remember specific details about it, like what letter it starts with). As a result, the constant juggling of two languages creates a need to control how much a person accesses a language at any given time. From a communicative standpoint, this is an important skill— understanding a message in one language can be difficult if your other language always interferes. Likewise, if a bilingual person frequently switches between languages when speaking, it can confuse the listener, especially if that listener knows only one of the speaker’s languages.’
‘Tip-of-the-tongue-states’? That’s me most of the time. Right, that’s it pal! I’m proper fashed noo innit?