Lexical and cognitive development of children learning regional languages: Studies from the Netherlands





Frisian, Limburgish, child language acquisition, vocabulary, selective attention


Regional language speakers are subject to negative social judgments. In this contribution, I provide an overview of research in the Netherlands with children who are regional language learners against the backdrop of this deficit perspective. Findings on the lexical and cognitive development of children from Fryslân, a northern Dutch province, and Limburg, a southern Dutch province, demonstrate that regional language acquisition is neither associated with language delays nor with any cognitive difficulties. Linguistic overlap between Frisian and Limburgish, on the one hand, and Dutch, on the other hand, results in ample opportunities to share linguistic resources, experiences, and knowledge. Especially unbalanced children benefit from this cross-linguistic overlap because they can make use of their stronger language to perform in the weaker language. Cross-linguistic regularities between the regional and national language are helpful and support performance in the regional language. Results on cognitive effects suggest that regional language learners have some selective attention advantages. Although significant, the effects are small, the advantages do not last long, and they require sufficient exposure to and proficiency in the regional language.


Adesope, O. O., Lavin, T., Thompson, T., and Ungerleider, C. 2010. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Review of Educational Research 80: 207–245. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654310368803 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654310368803

Anderson, N. J., Graham, S. A., Prime, H., Jenkins, J. M., and Madigan, S. 2021. Linking quality and quantity of parental linguistic input to child language skills: A meta-analysis. Child Development 92(2): 484–501. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13508 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13508

Antoniou, K., Grohmann, K. K., Kambanaros, M., and Katsos, N. 2016. The effect of childhood bilectalism and multilingualism on executive control. Cognition 149: 18–30. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2015.12.002 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2015.12.002

Antoniou, M. 2019. The advantages of bilingualism debate. Annual Review of Linguistics 5: 395–415. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-linguistics-011718-011820 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-linguistics-011718-011820

Bialystok E. 2017. The bilingual adaptation: How minds accommodate experience. Psychological Bulletin 143(3): 233–262. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000099 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000099

Bialystok, E., and Barac, R. 2012. Emerging bilingualism: dissociating advantages for metalinguistic awareness and executive control. Cognition 122: 67–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2011.08.003 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2011.08.003

Bialystok E., Luk G., Peets K. F., and Yang S. 2010. Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 13(4): 525–531. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728909990423 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728909990423

Blom, E., and Bosma, E. 2016. The sooner the better? An investigation into the role of age of onset and its relation with transfer and exposure in bilingual Frisian–Dutch children. Journal of Child Language 43: 581–607. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000915000574 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000915000574

Blom, E., Küntay, A. C., Messer, M., Verhagen, J., and Leseman, P. 2014. The benefits of being bilingual: working memory in bilingual Turkish–Dutch children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 128: 105–119. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2014.06.007 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2014.06.007

Blom, E., Boerma, T., Bosma, E., Cornips, L., and Everaert, E. 2017. Cognitive advantages of bilingual children in different sociolinguistic contexts. Frontiers in Psychology 8: 552. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00552 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00552

Blom, E., Boerma, T., Bosma, E., Cornips, L., van den Heuij, K., and Timmermeister, M. 2020. Cross-language distance influences receptive vocabulary outcomes of bilingual children. First Language 40(2): 151–171. https://doi.org/10.1177/0142723719892794 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0142723719892794

Bosma, E., Blom, E., Hoekstra, E., and Versloot, A. 2019. A longitudinal study on the gradual cognate facilitation effect in bilingual children’s Frisian receptive vocabulary. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 22(4): 371–385. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2016.1254152 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2016.1254152

Bosma, E., and Blom, E. 2019. A code-switching asymmetry in bilingual children: Code-switching from Dutch to Frisian requires more cognitive control than code-switching from Frisian to Dutch. International Journal of Bilingualism 23(6): 1431–1447. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006918798972 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006918798972

Bosma, E., and Blom, E. 2020. Language activities in a minority–majority language context: Book-reading at home is more important for Frisian than for Dutch. Journal of Child Language 47(2): 289–308. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000919000023 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000919000023

Bosma, E., Bakker, A., Zenger, L. and Blom, E., 2023. Supporting the development of the bilingual lexicon through translanguaging: a realist review integrating psycholinguistics with educational sciences. European Journal of Psychology of Education 38: 225–247. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212- 021-00586-6 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-021-00586-6

Blom, E., Cornips, L., and Vangsnes, Ø. A. (in preparation). Age, interactions with peers, and proficiency in the standard variety predict children’s dialect proficiency.

Breuker, P. 2001. West Frisian in Language Contact. In Handbook of Frisian Studies, edited by H. H. Munske, N. Århammar, V. F. Faltings, J. F. Hoekstra, O. Vries, A. G. H. Walker, and O. Wilts, pp. 121–129. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110946925.121 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110946925.121

Bylund, E., Antfolk, J., Abrahamsson, N., Olstad, A. M. H., Norrman, G., and Lehtonen, M. 2023. Does bilingualism come with linguistic costs? A meta-analytic review of the bilingual lexical deficit. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 30(3): 897–913. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-022-02136-7 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-022-02136-7

Core, C., Hoff, E., Rumiche, R., and Señor, M. 2013. Total and conceptual vocabulary in Spanish-English bilinguals from 22 to 30 months: implications for assessment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 56(5): 1637–1649. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2013/11-0044) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2013/11-0044)

Cornips, L. M. E. A., and Van den Heuij, K. 2015. Staat het opgroeien in dialect een goede woordenschat in het Nederlands in de weg? Levende Talen Magazine 102(7): 12–16.

Dale, P. S., Dionne, G., Eley, T. C., and Plomin, R. 2000. Lexical and grammatical development: a behavioural genetic perspective. Journal of Child Language 27(3): 619–642. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0305000900004281 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000900004281

De Houwer, A. 2007. Parental language imput patterns and children's bilingual use. Applied Psycholinguistics 28(3): 411–424. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716407070221 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716407070221

Francot R. J., van den Heuij K., Blom E., Heeringa W., and Cornips L. 2017. Inter- individual variation among young children growing up in a bidialectal community: The acquisition of dialect and standard Dutch vocabulary. In Language variation – European perspectives VI: Selected papers from the eight international conference on language variation in Europe (ICLaVE 8), edited by Buchstaller I., Siebenhaar B., pp. 85–98. John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/silv.19.05fra DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/silv.19.05fra

Garraffa, M., Beveridge, M., and Sorace, A. 2015. Linguistic and cognitive skills in Sardinian–Italian bilingual children. Frontiers in Psychology 6:1898. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01898 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01898

Giesbers, H. 1986. Code-switching, dialectverlies en dialectbehoud. Taal & Tongval 38: 128–145

Goriot, C., van Hout, R., Broersma, M., Lobo, V., McQueen, J.M. and Unsworth, S. 2021. Using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test in L2 children and adolescents: effects of L1. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 24(4): 546–568. https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2018.1494131 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13670050.2018.1494131

Green, D. W. and Abutalebi, J. 2013. Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology 25: 515–530. https://doi.org/10.1080/20445911.2013.796377 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/20445911.2013.796377

Hernandez, A. E., and Li, P. 2007. Age of acquisition: its neural and computational mechanisms. Psychological Bulletin 133(4): 638–650. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.4.638 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.4.638

Hilchey, M. D., and Klein, R. M. 2011. Are there bilingual advantages on nonlinguistic interference tasks? Implications for the plasticity of executive control processes. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 18(4): 625–658. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-011-0116-7 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13423-011-0116-7

Hoff, E. 2020. Lessons from the study of input effects on bilingual development. International Journal of Bilingualism 24(1): 82–88. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006918768370 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006918768370

Hyatt, D., Escott, H., and Bone, R. 2022. ‘Addressing’ language deficit: valuing children's variational repertories. Literacy 56: 212–224. https://doi.org/10.1111/lit.12303 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/lit.12303

Kaiser, I. and Kasberger, G. 2018. Children’s emerging ability to discriminate L1-varieties. First Language 38 (5): 447–480. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0142723718761403

Kelley, A., and Kohnert, K. 2012. Is there a cognate advantage for typically developing Spanish-speaking English-language learners?. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 43(2): 191–204. https://doi.org/10.1044/0161-1461%282011/10-0022%29 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1044/0161-1461(2011/10-0022)

Kidd, E., Donnelly, S., and Christiansen, M. H. 2018. Individual differences in language acquisition and processing. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 22(2): 154–169. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2017.11.006 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2017.11.006

Koskulu-Sancar, S., van de Weijer-Bergsma, E., Mulder, H., & Blom, E. (2023). Examining the role of parents and teachers in executive function development in early and middle childhood: A systematic review. Developmental Review, 67, 101063. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2022.101063 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2022.101063

Kroll, J., Bobb, S. and Hoshino, N. 2014. Two languages in mind: Bilingualism as a tool to investigate language, cognition, and the brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science 23(3): 159–163. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721414528511 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721414528511

Kroon, S., and Vallen, T. 2004. Zorgen om dialect en school. In Dialect en school in Limburg (Studies in Meertaligheid; No. 5), edited by S. Kroon, & T. Vallen, 1–10. Aksant Academic Publishers.

Lauchlan, F., Parisi, M., and Fadda, R. 2013. Bilingualism in Sardinia and Scotland: exploring the cognitive benefits of speaking a ‘minority’ language. International Journal of Bilingualism 17: 43–56. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006911429622 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1367006911429622

MacLeod, A.A.N., and Demers, C. 2023. Transmitting white monolingual Anglo-American norms: A concept analysis of “quality of language” in parent-child interactions. Applied Psycholinguistics 44(4): 431-459. https://doi.org/10.1017/S014271642300005X DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S014271642300005X

Malabonga, V., Kenyon, D. M., Carlo, M., August, D., and Louguit, M. 2008. Development of a cognate awareness measure for Spanish-speaking English language learners. Language Testing 25(4): 495–519. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265532208094274 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0265532208094274

Muysken, P. 2000. Bilingual speech: A typology of code-mixing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Oller, D. K., and Eilers, R. E. 2002. Language and literacy in bilingual children. Clevedon, UK Multilingual Matters. https://doi.org/10.21832/9781853595721 DOI: https://doi.org/10.21832/9781853595721

Oller, D. K., Pearson, B. Z., and Cobo-Lewis, A. B. (2007). Profile effects in early bilingual language and literacy. Applied psycholinguistics 28(2): 191–230. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716407070117 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716407070117

Pearson, B. Z., Fernández, S. C., and Oller, D. K. 1993. Lexical development in bilingual infants and toddlers: Comparison to monolingual norms. Language Learning 43(1): 93–120. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1993.tb00174.x DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.1993.tb00174.x

Poarch, G. J., and Krott, A. 2019. A bilingual advantage? An appeal for a change in perspective and recommendations for future research. Behavioral Sciences 9(9): 95. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs9090095 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/bs9090095

Provinsje, Fryslân. 2015. De Fryske taalatlas 2015. De Fryske taal yn byld. Leeuwarden: Provinsje Fryslân.

Rowe, M., and Snow, C. 2020. Analyzing input quality along three dimensions: Interactive, linguistic, and conceptual. Journal of Child Language 47(1): 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000919000655 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000919000655

Samuelsson, S., Byrne, B., Quain, P., Wadsworth, S., Corley, R., DeFries, J. C., and Olson, R. 2005. Environmental and genetic influences on pre-reading skills in Australia, Scandinavia, and the United States. Journal of Educational Psychology 97:705–722. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.97.4.705 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.97.4.705

Scheele, A., Leseman, P., and Mayo, A. 2010. The home language environment of monolingual and bilingual children and their language proficiency. Applied Psycholinguistics 31(1): 117–140. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716409990191 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716409990191

Schelletter, C. 2002. The effect of form similarity on bilingual children's lexical development. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 5(2): 93–107. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728902000214 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728902000214

Schlichting, J. E. P. T. 2005. Peabody Picture Vocabulary test-III-NL, based on Dunn, M., and Dunn, L. M. (1997). Amsterdam: Harcourt Test Publishers.

Schmeets, H. and Cornips, L. (2022). Taaldiversiteit in Nederland. Taal en Tongval 74(1): 75–106. https://doi.org/10.5117/TET2022.1.004.SCHM DOI: https://doi.org/10.5117/TET2022.1.004.SCHM

Trieschnigg, D., Nguyen, D., Jongbloed, L., Van Loo, J., Cornips, L., and Meder, T. 2015. Finding and analyzing tweets from Limburg and Friesland. Paper Presented at the 25th Meeting of Computational Linguistics in the Netherlands (CLIN 25), Antwerp.

Tuller, L. 2015. Clinical use of parental questionnaires in multilingual contexts. In Assessing multilingual children: Disentangling bilingualism from language impairment, edited by S. Armon-Lotem, J. de Jong, and N. Meir, 301–330. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. https://doi.org/10.21832/9781783093137-013 DOI: https://doi.org/10.21832/9781783093137-013

Umbel, V. M., Pearson, B. Z., Fernández, M. C., and Oller, D. K. 1992. Measuring bilingual children's receptive vocabularies. Child Development 63(4): 1012–1020. https://doi.org/10.2307/1131250 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1992.tb01678.x

Vandenbroucke, L., Spilt, J., Verschueren, K., Piccinin, C., & Baeyens, D. (2018). The classroom as a developmental context for cognitive development: A meta-analysis on the importance of teacher–student interactions for children’s executive functions. Review of Educational Research, 88(1), 125–164. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654317743200 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654317743200

Videsott, G., Della Rosa, P., Wiater, W., Franceschini, R., & Abutalebi, J. (2012). How does linguistic competence enhance cognitive functions in children? A study in multilingual children with different linguistic competences. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15(4), 884–895. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728912000119 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728912000119

Ware, A. T., Kirkovski, M., and Lum, J. A. G. 2020. Meta-Analysis reveals a bilingual advantage that is dependent on task and age. Frontiers in Psychology 11: 1458. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01458 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01458