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We acquire our native language, seemingly without effort, in infancy and early childhood. Language is our constant companion throughout our lifetime, even as we age. Indeed, compared with other aspects of cognition, language seems to be fairly resilient to the process of aging.
Cognitive scientist Roger Kreuz examines how aging affects language and how language affects aging, and explains why language ability shapes our lives throughout its course.
According to Kreuz, what appear to be changes in an older person's language ability are actually produced by declines in such other cognitive processes as memory and perception. Some language abilities, including vocabulary size and writing ability, may even improve with age. And certain language activities—including reading fiction and engaging in conversation—may even help us live fuller and healthier lives.
Kreuz looks at the cognitive processes underlying our language ability, exploring in particular how changes in them lead to changes in listening, speaking, reading, and writing. For example, could the inability to produce a word that's on the tip of your tongue suggest that the increasing incidence of this with age may be the result of a surfeit of world knowledge? Or consider that older people can be better storytellers, and (something to remember at a family reunion) their perceived tendency toward off-topic verbosity may actually reflect different communication goals.
Kreuz’s book, Changing Minds: How Aging Affects Language and How Language Affects Aging (MIT Press), coauthored with Richard Roberts, is available for sale and signing.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)