ARC Seminar: Virginia Valian: Bilingualism and Cognition
This talk will explore two questions. The first is why we might expect that bilingualism would have cognitive benefits. The second is why the benefits that are observed are so variable from one study to another.
Virginia Valian is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Hunter College and is a member of the doctoral faculties of Psychology, Linguistics, and Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the director of the Language Acquisition Research Center, which has been funded by the NSF and NIH. She is also the director of the Hunter College Gender Equity Project, which has been funded by NSF, NIH, and the Sloan Foundation.
Dr Valian works in the psychology of language and gender equity. In language, Dr Valian works in two areas. One area is first language acquisition, where Dr Valian performs research with the aim of developing a model of acquisition that specifies what is innate, how input is used by the child, and how the child's syntactic knowledge interacts with knowledge in other linguistic and extra-linguistic domains. To approach those questions she uses a variety of methods, including computer-assisted corpus analysis, comprehension experiments, elicited imitation experiments, and elicited production experiments. Dr Valian's second language area is the relation between bilingualism and higher cognitive functions in adults; she published a major review to explain the inconsistencies in the literature. With Irina Sekerina, Dr Valian co-hosted a two-day NSF-sponsored workshop on bilingualism and executive function across the lifespan.
In gender equity Dr Valian performs research on the reasons behind women's slow advancement in the professions and proposes remedies for individuals and institutions. She is currently particularly interested in who receives awards and prizes, and invitations to speak at conferences. In a 2014 Chronicle of Higher Education article on 'What book changed your mind?', Valian's book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women was one of 12 non-fiction books published in the last 30 years that was showcased. Her current book with Abigail Stewart, titled, The Inclusive Academy: Diversity and Excellence, will be published by MIT Press. Dr Valian's audiences have ranged from natural scientists, such as chemists and astronomers, to theater actors and directors. Her evidence-based approach has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Nature, Scientific American, The Women's Review of Books, and many other journals and magazines. She has also appeared on NPR, the BBC, and TheNewsHour with Jim Lehrer.