Material from Haugen (1956),
Bilingualism in the Americas
A Bibliography and Research Guide.

The Effect [of bilingualism] on Intelligence


4.7 THE EFFECT ON INTELLIGENCE. The discussion of language proficiency and coexistence of systems leads naturally into the literature on bilingualism and intelligence. While teachers of language have been more interested in the effect of intelligence on language learning, the educational psychologists have explored the effect of language learning on intelligence. Unfortunately the conclusions are somewhat contradictory, due to the differences in terminology and purposes of various investigators.

A careful reading of a considerable number of the studies made leads this writer to conclude that the disagreement is due largely to confusion over the meaning of the words intelligence and bilingualism, as well as the use of testing instruments which make insufficient distinction between various kinds of linguistic behavior.

4.7.1 The use of tests that could be quantitatively scored and statistically treated has given intelligence testing a specious kind of objectivity. But there is still no agreement in the literature as to just what intelligence is. In its ideal form it would have to be conceived as an innate ability to learn, without reference to the specific motivations, opportunities, or values of the culture into which the individual is born. In practice it is obvious that the so-called intelligence tests are performance tests embodying those skills which their makers regard as important for success in their own culture (Graham 1926). Sanchez has denied the validity of intelligence tests for children with a different linguistic background or social experience from those of the average American (Sanchez 1934a).

Johnson writes: ``Measuring the intelligence of bilingual subjects presents complex problems which possibly render both linguistic (Otis) and performance (Goodenough) tests invalid" (Johnson 1953). Unhappily not all investigators have shown this restraint in interpreting their results. In the 1920's, when intelligence tests first became popular and the American attitude to foreign groups was hostile, the lower scores of bilingual children were interpreted as evidence either of intellectual inferiority (Garretson 1928) or the harmful effects of bilingualism (Yoshioka 1929).

An important discovery, however, was made by Pintner when he administered non-verbal performance tests to bilinguals in 1922-23 in Youngstown, Ohio, and New York City: there was no significant difference between the scores of monolinguals and bilinguals (Pintner-Keller 1922; Pintner 1923). These findings have since been confirmed by many investigators, testing groups of American Chinese (Wang 19243), Indians (Jamieson-Sandiford 1928), Mexicans (Garth 1928; Altus 1953), Japanese (Yoshioka 1929), Jews and Italians (Arsenian 1937), Italians and Puerto Ricans (Darcy 1946; 1952). This is the basis for Darcy's conclusion: ``There is no indication of the inferiority of bilingual subjects when their performance on non-language tests of intelligence is measured against that of monolingual subjects" (Darcy 1953). We may therefore exclude the notion of general intelligence as irrelevant when speaking of bilingualism, and consider rather the verbal handicap [now known as LEP (hs)] which testers find so characteristic of bilinguals (Sanchez 1932b).

4.7.2 Darcy, in the review just cited, concludes that ``the general findings have been that bilinguists are penalized when their intelligence is measured on verbal tests of intelligence" (Darcy 1953). Here it is important to point out that the bilinguals tested have nearly always been of a particular kind, which we may here refer to as ``home-school" bilinguals. Most of them are children living in a non-English-speaking environment, whether rural or urban, whose first encounter with English is in school at the age of six or seven. After a few years of this dualism, in which English is largely limited to their external contacts, they are tested in English and of course fall below the norms of children who have spoken English since infancy. Fortunately some investigators are aware of this factor, but not all have shown the insight of Anastasi and Cordova, who investigated the intelligence of Puerto Rican children in New York and concluded: ``Whether or not bilingualism constitutes a handicap, as well as the extent of such a handicap, depends upon the way in which the two languages have been learned. . . It is not the interferences between the two languages so much as the restriction in the learning of each to certain areas that leads to handicap" (Anastasi-Cordova 1953, 3).

An important aspect of the problem is brought out by Klineberg, who notes that intelligence scores rise with higher economic status, more schooling, and the growth of social motivation: ``As the social and economic environments of the two ethnic groups become more alike, so do their test scores tend to approximate each other" (Klineberg 1941, 284). Sanchez showed that by intensive drill in English it was possible to raise the IQ's of a group of Spanish-American children from 72 to 100 in two years (Sanchez 1932a; 1934a). While Haught found that the handicap did not decrease among Spanish-speaking children in grades 1 to 12 (Haught 1931), Spoerl found no difference in test scores among college students (Spoerl 1944).

4.7.3 But if it is true that bilinguals are handicapped only on verbal tests, and that bilinguals are individuals whose opportunities for learning the language of the tests have been limited, then we are faced with a redundancy: a verbal intelligence test is a test of language achievement, and an important factor in all language achievement is the opportunity to learn. We may dismiss as merely naive the notion that a language is ``learned" when the individual has acquired fluency in basic patterns: the kind of learning that is tested by intelligence tests goes on through life and reflects the total experience of the individual. The groups tested for bilingual effects on intelligence are often socially handicapped in other respects also: poverty, segregation, and prejudice operate to reduce their opportunities for language learning. Urban children who have had full opportunity to associate with English-speaking children before school age have not shown any serious language handicap (Pintner-Arsenian 1937). Mexican children born in Tucson had higher IQ's than those born in Mexico (Paschal-Sullivan 1925).

Those investigators who matched their bilinguals and monolinguals for mental age or knowledge of English found no difference between them (Hill 1936; Spoerl 1944). Children who have devoted years of their lives, often including the earliest ones, to learning a different language from that in which they are tested, are bound to show some retardation. It can extend to richness of association and proficiency in expression (Wright-Manuel 1929). But the value judgment which immediately concludes that such a retardation is harmful needs to be tempered by consideration of the values which bilingualism brings the child: continuity and contact with his family, his friends, his social group and its traditions, including its culture and religion. It must also be remembered that the value of superior linguistic skill often shows diminishing returns in occupations where it is not of prime importance. The size of the handicap is never more than a year or two in mental age, which could be a small price to pay for the values obtained.

4.7.4 While the intelligence test is far from the ideal language test we have envisaged in an earlier section, it thus functions as a rough indicator of the subject's opportunity for language learning, as was noted already by Brigham (Brigham 1930). Fairness to the bilingual would therefore demand that he be given tests in both languages, as did Manuel in testing Spanish-American children (Manuel 1935). He found that in the first few grades the children have a handicap in both languages, but one would also expect that the total vocabulary for both languages would exceed that of monolinguals (cf., however, the rather inconclusive results of Smith on Chinese-American bilinguals in Hawaii, Smith 1931; 1935; 1949). Mitchell found an average of 13.32 points higher IQ of Mexican children when tested in Spanish (Mitchell 1937). Sanchez found that the English version of the Binet-Simon test for age eight contained 114 words unknown to Mexican children coming to school (Sanchez 1934b). Brunner, who tested American rural bilinguals, also concluded that their rather slight handicap on intelligence tests was due to retardation in English and not to lack of native intelligence (Brunner 1929, 69). An excellent survey and critique of the intelligence test as an instrument in determining psychological differences between racial and national groups is found in Klineberg (1951).