Exploring the effects of bilingualism on children’s conversational understanding and moral sense

Michael Siegal, Maria A. Tallandini, Sandra Pellizzoni and Corinna Michelin

in Access to Language and Cognitive Development

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199592722
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731488 | DOI:
Exploring the effects of bilingualism on children’s conversational understanding and moral sense

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This chapter addresses the question of whether bilingualism confers an advantage in terms of children's understanding and appreciation of messages as intended by speakers in conversation and key aspects of their moral cognition. It shows that, compared with monolingual children, bilinguals (i.e., in Italian and Slovenian, Italian and Slovenian, or English and Japanese) aged three to six years display a more advanced understanding of speakers' intended meanings in recognizing effective communicative messages. The chapter also examines the extent to which bilinguals' advantage in communicative insight extends to a consideration of the means and ends of actions that critically influence others' welfare. Both monolinguals and bilinguals showed evidence of an early ‘moral sense’ on measures of utilitarian moral reasoning that concern the evaluation of means and ends for preventing harm. However, bilingual children (in Italian and Slovenian) displayed a more adult-like reasoning pattern at an early age. Both language exposure and cultural influences are discussed as bases for differences between bilinguals and monolinguals in these key aspects of their cognitive development.

Keywords: bilinguals; moral cognition; monolingual children; moral reasoning; cognitive development; children's development

Chapter.  8944 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Developmental Psychology

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