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Better attention, better communication? How ADHD and multilingualism influence children’s pragmatic development

This project investigates the role of visual and executive attention in the pragmatic development of monolingual and multilingual children with and without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Image of talking children

Photo: Colorbox

About the project


We explore the novel hypothesis that immature attention abilities could be at the heart of children’s persistent pragmatic difficulties with understanding non-literal language such as irony. Initial evidence for a link between attention and pragmatic development comes from two different groups: Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have attention impairments and are also more likely to have difficulties in social communication. Multilingual children, on the other hand, might have benefits in both attention and pragmatics (although this is highly contested).


The project investigates a potential link between attentional abilities and pragmatic competence in 6- to 12-year-old children. We will test children from a wide spectrum of attention and language profiles, including children with attention deficits, neuro-typical children, multilingual and monolingual speakers. Importantly, the project will be one of the first to explore the cognitive and communicative skills of multilingual children with ADHD, a scientifically largely unexplored group.


The project uses a combination of eye-tracking experiments, cognitive and linguistic tests, and questionnaire data.

Work packages

  • WP 1: Distribution of visual attention during figurative language processing (eye-tracking studies)
  • WP 2: Investigating a potential link between executive function, inattention symptoms, multilingual language experience, and pragmatic communication abilities


A better understanding of the interplay between attention, multilingual language experience and pragmatic development could advance knowledge in several disciplines such as linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. The project also aims to have a significant societal impact, contributing to better diagnostic tools to detect attention and communication disorders in multilingual children.

Project team

  • Franziska Köder (Project manager, University of Oslo)
  • Maria Garraffa (University of East Anglia/ University of Oslo)
  • Ingrid Lossius Falkum (University of Oslo)
  • Merete Glenne Øie (University of Oslo)
  • Sebastian Watzl (University of Oslo)
  • Minna Lehtonen (University of Turku/ University of Oslo)
  • Jan de Jong (University of Bergen)
  • Herb Colston (University of Alberta)
  • Deirdre Wilson (University College London)


August 2021 -  July 2025


The Research Council of Norway, FINNUT project no. 315368

Tags: Multilingual competence, Language Acquisition, Pragmatics, Psycholinguistics, Eye tracking
Published Feb. 13, 2020 4:20 PM - Last modified May 18, 2022 9:16 AM