Blindness and Second Language Acquisition : Studies of Cognitive Advantages in Blind L1 and L2 speakers

Sammanfattning: The aim of this study is to investigate whether blind individuals display cognitive advantages over sighted individuals with regard to second language acquisition. Previous studies from neuropsychology have indicated that this is the case. It has been found that blind L1 speakers can compensate for loss of vision by developing better perceptual and cognitive skills compared to sighted individuals, skills that are highly relevant to language acquisition. These studies do not, however, investigate blind L2 speakers, for whom it is not clear whether these advantages are also found.  In all, 80 adults participated in the study: 40 L2 speakers of Swedish (11 early blind, 9 late blind, 20 sighted, AO<18) and a matching group and subgroups of L1 speakers. These speakers underwent tests on speech perception in noise, accentedness in an L2 and memory functions. The results revealed that L2 speakers are at a great disadvantage perceiving speech in noise compared to L1 speakers, and that there was no advantage associated with blindness. In the L1 speakers group, however, the results revealed that the early blind had advantages compared to the late blind and sighted in white noise, but that both blind groups were more negatively affected by babble noise than the sighted. The results in relation to accentedness in an L2 revealed that there were no advantages associated with blindness. The results further revealed there were no advantages associated with blindness on the episodic memory test. The results did, however, reveal that the early blind performed significantly better than the late blind and sighted on all phonological short-term memory tests and that both the early and late blind were significantly better than the sighted on recognition memory for new words, irrespective of language background. The conclusion is that blindness is associated with advantages in, for example, ability to learn new words and syntax, acquisition rate, ultimate L2 attainment, and language aptitude.