Idioms in the ageing brain: The effects of age-related cognitive decline on the processing and comprehension of idioms

Summary

Idioms, such as the Dutch "tegen de lamp lopen" (literally meaning “to walk against the lamp”, but figuratively “to get caught”), are complex expressions whose figurative meaning cannot be derived from the meanings of the individual words. Research has suggested that in processing an idiom’s figurative meaning, we use our executive functions. Since executive functions decline in elderly adults, this may affect their idiom processing. As idioms are an essential part of our everyday language, being unable to understand idioms can impede successful communication.
The central question of this project is whether and how age-related decline in executive functions affects idiom processing and comprehension. This question will be investigated in four studies using EEG and eye-tracking. The high temporal precision of these online methods enables their potential use as biomarkers of linguistic processing difficulties. Furthermore, since these methods have not been used much yet with elderly adults, this project can provide new insights in how ageing affects language processing. Besides investigating monolingual elderly adults, the project will examine Frisian-Dutch elderly bilinguals to explore whether the cognitive reserve resulting from lifelong bilingualism may support healthy ageing. Finally, in collaboration with the Alzheimer Research Center Groningen, idiom processing will be examined in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), whose executive functions decline rapidly. Investigating idiom processing in this population can contribute to early diagnosis of the disease. Given the ageing of society and its concomitant rise in the number of elderly adults and AD patients, this issue is of high societal relevance.

Details

Project number

322-75-008

Main applicant

Prof. dr. P. Hendriks

Affiliated with

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, Faculteit der Letteren, Centre for Language and Cognition Groningen (CLCG)

Team members

A. la Roi MA

Duration

01/09/2016 to 31/08/2020