Bilingual advantage for witness memory. With speaker Luna Fillpović

Wednesday 3 March 2021 (16:00-17:00)

Bene Bassetti,

MOSAIC Group for Research on Multilingualism seminar series 2020-21

With speaker Dr. Luna Filipović (PhD Cantab) from University of East Anglia

Bilingual advantage for witness memory: Why now you see it, now you don’t?

We have known at least since Loftus & Palmer’s 1974 study that language affects witness memory. What is more controversial is that a particular language can affect memory in a language-specific way. This Whorfian possibility has been investigated in different experiential domains and an increasing number of studies confirm that it is not a matter of whether language-specific effects exist but rather when they may be detected and how strong they can be on different occasions.

In this talk I show how speaking more than one language affects memory for events in a universal cognitive domain - motion. When it comes to testing witness memory, verbalisation is inherently present, either actively or tacitly. Witnesses are thinking-for-speaking and thinking-for-remembering (Slobin 1987, 1996, 2003) using specific patterns of their language(s). For instance, an English speaker can describe a witnessed event as ‘The man dropped a bag’ without having to specify whether this was done on purpose or not. In contrast, a Spanish speaker has to make a choice between two different structures - one with intentional and one with non-intentional meaning. So what happens when a bilingual speaks two languages of different types? Is one or both used to encode information in memory and with what impact?

I present a selection of experiments on recognition and recall memory, featuring different types of English-Spanish bilinguals (early, late L2 English, late L2 Spanish) and I explain why a bilingual advantage for memory of events seems to be there sometimes but not always (Filipović, 2019). I also introduce a recent analytic and predictive model CASP (Complex Adaptive System Principles) for Bilingualism (Filipović & Hawkins 2019), which can help us account for how language typology, the specific type of bilingualism (early vs. late) and the type of communicative situation (single vs. dual language activation) jointly lead to varied yet predictable linguistic and memory outputs. 


Luna Filipović (PhD Cantab) is Professor of Language and Cognition at the University of East Anglia, UK. Her specialisation is in experimental psycholinguistics, bilingualism, and semantic and syntactic processing of typologically different languages. Her recent research examines language effects on memory, verbalisation and translation of witness’ accounts of events. She has conducted experiments showing how a specific language spoken by a witness or suspect can affect the quantity and quality of information given, and explaining how, why and when this information can be distorted in translation, impacting witness memory and jury judgment. In addition to her lab work, she has studied extensive authentic corpora of multilingual police interviews in both the UK and the US for 20 years. Her research has been funded by major UK research Councils (ESRC and AHRC) as well as the Leverhulme Trust, the Newton Trust, Cambridge Assessment, Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and Studenica Foundation USA. She is a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) grant panel member for research grant applications in linguistics and psychology. She advised the UK Government on the integration of randomised control trials into policy-making in her role as a select member of the Cross-Whitehall Expert Advisory Panel. She leads a multidisciplinary project TACIT – Translation and Communication in Training (, which feeds the latest research findings on bilingualism and communication into training materials for police officers, language professionals and university educators. Her current project is entitled Confession to Make: Confessing through Misunderstanding in Police Interviews and is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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