Aurora Center 2020-23

Director: Marit Westergaard

Principal investigators: Yulia Rodina & Fatih Bayram (Theme 1), Merete Anderssen & Natalia Mitrofanova (Theme 2), Øystein Vangsnes & Terje Lohndal (Theme 3), Jason Rothman & Evelina Leivada (Theme 4)


Humans are unique among animals in that we have language, a complex system enabling com­muni­cation about any topic, be it past, present or future. In fact, humans are not limited to one language, but can acquire several under the right conditions. Nevertheless, bi- and multilingualism (henceforth referred to as multilingualism, unless further specified) is not an either-or pheno­menon, as multi­lingual minds may (and typically do) undergo numerous changes across the lifespan, as a result of linguistic and non-linguistic factors. This means that multilingual minds comprise dyna­mic linguistic systems, as co-existing languages affect each other in a multi­tude of ways, both in the acquisition process and beyond.

The AcqVA Aurora Center will conduct ecolo­gi­cally valid research, re­flect­ing today’s globa­lized world, where learning mul­tiple lan­guages at various points in the lifetime has become increasingly common. Our research will focus on a range of multi­lingual speaker groups and thus feed into current chal­lenges related to migration, education, and health, addressing important and yet unanswered questions for science and society. AcqVA Aurora will combine solid empi­ri­cal work with advanced theoretical (and statistical) model­ing in three domains: A) Acquisition: how multilingual minds develop in children and adults, B) Variation: how and why languages may differ considerably across indivi­duals and groups in space and time, and C) Attrition: how and why language erosion may occur over the course of the lifespan. The three domains will be studied within four cross-cutting themes, focusing on inter­related issues of multi­lingualism: 1) how linguistic and non-linguistic experiential factors shape linguistic and cognitive outcomes, 2) how multiple languages in the same mind influence each other, 3) how clo­sely related varieties co-existing in the same mind are processed, and 4) how representing and juggling multiple languages manifest and result in adaptations at the neurological and domain-general cognitive levels.

Both senior and junior scholars will be repre­sented among the PIs, which will ensure future recruitment and fulfil the intention of the Aurora call, preparing team members for further grant proposals, e.g. a Center of Excellence (CoE) from the Research Council of Norway (RCN) and European Research Council grants (ERCs). AcqVA Aurora will hire four postdoctoral fellows and four inter­national Adjunct Professors (20%), one for each theme, plus a lab manager. Further­more, we will fill a gap in our current theoretical and methodological focus by hiring one full pro­fessor with a strong track record in neuro­cognition of multi­lingualism and qualifications in neuroimaging metho­dologies (e.g. MRI), com­plementing the beha­vioral and psycho­linguistic methods already in use in our labs. This means that AcqVA Aurora will add ten outstanding scholars to the current team, making UiT a world-leading center for research on the linguistic and cognitive sciences of multi­lingualism.

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