Language control in bilinguals: The adaptive control hypothesis

David W. Green, Jubin Abutalebi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Speech comprehension and production are governed by control processes. We explore their nature and dynamics in bilingual speakers with a focus on speech production. Prior research indicates that individuals increase cognitive control in order to achieve a desired goal. In the adaptive control hypothesis we propose a stronger hypothesis: Language control processes themselves adapt to the recurrent demands placed on them by the interactional context. Adapting a control process means changing a parameter or parameters about the way it works (its neural capacity or efficiency) or the way it works in concert, or in cascade, with other control processes (e.g., its connectedness). We distinguish eight control processes (goal maintenance, conflict monitoring, interference suppression, salient cue detection, selective response inhibition, task disengagement, task engagement, opportunistic planning). We consider the demands on these processes imposed by three interactional contexts (single language, dual language, and dense code-switching). We predict adaptive changes in the neural regions and circuits associated with specific control processes. A dual-language context, for example, is predicted to lead to the adaptation of a circuit mediating a cascade of control processes that circumvents a control dilemma. Effective test of the adaptive control hypothesis requires behavioural and neuroimaging work that assesses language control in a range of tasks within the same individual.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-530
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Adaptive control hypothesis
  • Bilingual
  • Cognitive control
  • Language control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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