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Interview Keynote speaker Ludovica Serratrice

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Please introduce yourself

My name is Ludovica Serratrice and I’m currently a professor of bi-multilingualism and the director of the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism at the University of Reading.

My first career was, briefly, in conference interpreting in Milan. A year as an Italian language assistant in Glasgow changed the course of my life and set me on an academic path with an MA in language acquisition at the University of Essex, and then a PhD in Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh.

Although I am a (psycho)linguist I have never worked in a linguistics department, I started out in education and then continued in psychology and speech and language therapy. My understanding of syntactic theory is definitely not what it used to be, but working alongside colleagues coming from different theoretical and methodological backgrounds has been, and continues to be, extremely enriching.

Can you tell us a bit about your research?

Over the last 20 years I have been working on various aspects of language development in both monolingual and bilingual children, particularly the acquisition of reference. In the context of my research on bilingual language development I have made a contribution to our understanding of cross-linguistic influence in the language of young bilinguals. Although children who are regularly exposed to two languages from birth of thereafter can and do develop linguistic systems in their two languages that are largely independent, there are systematic instances in which the two systems interact at some level and formulating testable predictions on where and when these effects are likely to be observed is important to understand the nature of bilingual grammars and of language processing in bilingual speakers. Although more than half of the world’s population is bi-multilingual to different degrees, the burden is always on linguists and psycholinguists to show how bilingual speakers are similar or different from monolinguals. I have a hunch that the field would look rather different if we had started with models of bi-multilingual language development and processing rather than of monolingual ones.

What are your expectations from COM2019?

I have not been to COM before and I am very keen to see what the programme will bring, especially in its breadth of coverage. We will be hosting COM in June 2020 in Reading so I’m also looking forward to working with the organizing committee to make sure that we know everything there is to know to make the conference a big success next year!

What are you particularly proud of in terms of your research career?

This is a difficult question as like any self-respecting academic I suffer from massive impostor syndrome! If I really have to answer I will say that I am proud to have made an initial contribution to the way in which we conceptualize cross-linguistic influence in the bilingual language development of young children. The concept has been greatly refined over the years, but I still think that we don’t really have a good explanation of how and why it really happens.

I also feel quite positive about the way in which I try to engage with non-academic users of research, especially speech and language therapists. I have always taught trainee speech and language therapists, first at the University of Manchester for 12 years and now at the University of Reading over the last three years, and it is always very satisfying to be able to make own’s own research, and that of other colleagues in the field, accessible to practitioners. Research is worthwhile and exciting in its own right of course, but I think we have a duty and a responsibility to engage beyond academia. At the same time we need to be mindful that the results that we get in the confines of a well-controlled lab environment may often be quite far from the reality of professional practice, so we need to bear that in mind when explaining what our results may – or may not – mean to non-academics.

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