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MultiAge project to receive major ERC grant

Posted on 5 September 2023

Dr Angela de Bruin from the Department of Psychology’s has been awarded a grant worth almost €1.5m from the European Research Council (ERC).

Her five-year project, called MultiAge, will focus on how language use changes as people get older with a particular focus on bilinguals. Previous research in this area has tended to focus on language changes in adults who speak one language, although over half the world’s population can communicate in more than one language.


The way a bilingual uses multiple languages and the mechanisms needed to ensure fluent communication might change  as a person ages and the MultiAge project will therefore focus on bilingual older adults.

Dr de Bruin says: “I'm absolutely delighted to have been awarded this grant, which will allow me to work with underrepresented bilingual communities in the UK.

"Bilinguals know multiple languages and therefore need to make sure they use the languages understood by the people they are talking with. To do this, they have to monitor the surroundings to choose the appropriate language, select words in the intended language, and avoid interference from the other language. If they don’t, it can lead to inappropriate language intrusions, such as using a Spanish word while talking with an English-only speaking person. 

“Bilinguals use various mechanisms that we refer to as ‘language control’ and that are crucial for fluent communication, but we know very little about how this ‘bilingual language control’ changes with age.”


Dr de Bruin says it’s hoped the research could be useful in better understanding and managing the ageing process and may even be of use in understanding and diagnosing some types of illnesses. MultiAge will therefore also examine language control in older adults with cognitive impairment.

“Given how important language is for communication, we need to understand how and why language changes with age,” she says. “Language deficits might also be an early sign of cognitive impairment related to diseases such as dementia. Detecting these language problems early might result in a faster diagnosis. However, doing this early and reliably requires a deep understanding of language changes occurring with healthy age and with cognitive impairment.”