A while ago I was approached by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL) asking if I’d like to by interviewed for their journal, The Linguist. They were looking for linguists and others involved with languages who have set up language-related businesses.
This sounded like a good thing to do, and I was interviewed over the phone. Some months latter I was sent a copy of their magazine with the interview in it. I didn’t mention at the time as I was waiting for it to be available online. It is now available in the Februrary/March edition (page 7).
I talk about Omniglot – what it is, how it came to be, how I make a living from it, and my own language background.
I’ve been wondering whether to join the CIOL – I would qualify for membership, I think. Are any of you members or this, or other professional organisations for linguists? Is it worth joining?
In other news, this week I was interviewed, in French, for a podcast by Céline Guerreiro. I’ll let you know when that is online. We talked about language learning, mainly.
Many families raise their children to be bilingual. This might involve one parent speaking one language, and the other parent speaking a different one. Or maybe the family will speak one language at home, and the children will pick up another at school. The hope is that the children will end up speaking both languages fluently.
Recently I got talking to a Czech woman, who told me that she spoke Czech to her sons for the first year or so, while her husband spoke English to them – he doesn’t know much Czech. After that however, she switched to English, as she found it too hard to speak Czech to them all the time. This surprised me, as you’d think that speaking your mother tongue would be easier than speaking another language, but not in this case, it seems.
As they currently live in Wales, the main languages her boys encounter are English and Welsh. Maybe their mother is the only Czech speaker around – I certainly haven’t come across any others. Maybe she feels more comfortable speaking English than Czech after living here for many years.
She told me that they’re soon moving to Czechia, so her sons will have to learn Czech. They’re young (4 and 2), so will probably soon pick it up. Whether her husband learns it is another matter – it is quite a challenging language to learn as an adult.
Are any of you raising your children bilingually?
What challenges do you face, and how do you deal with them?
Have you become more comfortable speaking a foreign language than your mother tongue?
One of the things we talked about last night at the French conversation group was patois, specifically Jamaican (Jimiekn / Patwah).
In French patois means
“Système linguistique essentiellement oral, utilisé sur une aire réduite et dans une communauté déterminée (généralement rurale), et perçu par ses utilisateurs comme inférieur à la langue officielle.” [source]
“an essentially oral linguistic system, used in a small area and in a particular community (usually rural), and perceived by its users as inferior to the official language.”
In English patois means “an unwritten regional dialect of a language, esp. of French, usually considered substandard; the jargon of particular group.” [source].
1. A regional dialect of a language (especially French); usually considered substandard.
2. Any of various French or Occitan dialects spoken in France.
3. Creole French in the Caribbean (especially in Dominica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti).
4. Jamaican Patois, a Jamaican Creole language primarily based on English and African languages but also has influences from Spanish, Portuguese and Hindi.
5. Jargon or cant.
It comes from the Middle French patois (local dialect), from the Old French patois (incomprehensible speech, rude language), from the Old French patoier (to gesticulate, handle clumsily, paw), from pate (paw), from Vulgar Latin *patta (paw, foot), from the Frankish *patta (paw, sole of the foot), from the Proto-Germanic *pat-, *paþa- (to walk, tread, go, step), of uncertain origin [source].
Patois was first used in written French in 1643 to refer to non-standard varities of French, and to regional languages such as Picard, Occitan, Franco-Provençal and Catalan. Such varities and languages were assumed to be backward, countrified, and unlettered. Use of the word was banned by king Louis XIV in 1700.
There is no standard linguistic definition of patois, and to a linguist it can refer to pidgins, creoles, dialects, or vernaculars [source].
In bilingual communities it is common to switch between languages regularly. This certainly happens a lot among the Welsh speakers I know and hear every day.
Some conversations are mostly in Welsh with occasionally bits of English every so often, some are mainly in English with some bits of Welsh, and some regularly weave between Welsh and English.
According to a friend, it might not be so common for Catalan speakers to mix Catalan and Spanish. He is learning Spanish, and also knows a bit Catalan, and plans to learn more. He believes that Catalan speakers either speak one or the other, and don’t usually mix them in one conversation. So if he went to Barcelona and spoke the little Catalan he knows mixed with Spanish, people might find this strange. Is he correct?
According to the Urban Dictionary, Catañol is the mixture of Catalán and Español that people in Catalán-speaking areas of Spain often use to converse.
According to the Wikipedia, Catañol is spoken in Barcelona, especially by young people, and is a form of Spanish with Catalan influences. It emergered during the 20th century as a result of migration to Catalonia from other parts of Spain. It is apparently considered ‘vulgar’.
Are there any bilingual or multilingual communities where language mixing is rare or even stigmatised?
The Polyglot Conference officially started today. There were talks and workshops all day on all sorts of interesting topics. I went to talks on Slovenian, linguistic relavtivity, Romani, the Cathars, and audiolinguistics. They were all interesting, especially the linguistic ones.
There was plenty of time between the talks to talk to other participants, and I managed to make some recordings in quite a variety of languages for the next episode of my podcast. I hope to make more recordings tomorrow.
I had conversations in English, Welsh, French, Irish, German, Russian, Mandarin, Japanese, and tried to speak a few other languages.
They are preparing Ljubljana for the Ljubljana Marathon tomorrow, and quite a few streets are being lined with barriers. I hope I’ll be able to get to the conference venue tomorrow.
I spent the past few days with my sister and her family. Her son is just over 2 and a half years old and is speaking a lot more than the last time I saw him at Easter this year.
He has trouble pronouncing certain sounds, such as r and consonant clusters like st, but at long as you listen carefully, you can usually work out what he’s saying.
He also invents new words, or gives words new meanings. For example, he has several toy monkeys (see below), and calls one ‘monkey’ or ‘daddy monkey’, another ‘other monkey’ or ‘mummy monkey’, and a smaller one he calls monkeykey, which I thought was very cute. He also calls playing cards, dominoes and other parts of games current buns. I’m not sure why.
Up-date: it turns out that I misheard the name of the monkey – it’s actually Monkey Keith not monkeykey.
I spent Christmas at my brother’s house and had a nice time. It was interesting to see how the language skills of my niece (4) and my nephew (1) are developing.
My niece speaks a lot, mainly in English, and sometimes in Russian (her mum is Russian), and is learning to read and write in English. She can recognise the letters, and with help can read and write words. When she writes some letters are back-to-front or otherwise not quite right. She hasn’t started learning to read and write Russian yet, I don’t think.
My nephew is at the one-word stage. He can say quite a few individual words in English, and sometimes puts them together into short sentences. He also understands Russian, but I haven’t heard say any words in Russian.
The first book shop we went to had a good selection of books in and about a wide variety of languages, including Old Irish, Middle Welsh, Breton and Sanskrit. I resisted buying anything as I have no spare space in my bag, and already have plenty of language-related books at home.
After wandering around Vieux Montréal for a while we had lunch in a nice café, then Lindsay and I went to meet Moti Lieberman of The Ling Space, where there are videos which explain and discuss linguistic and language-related topics in an accessible way. I hadn’t heard of this site before, but will definitely have a look at some of the videos. It sounds very interesting.
I’m taking it easy this morning, and after lunch will head to the airport – my plane leaves at 16:45, and I’ll arrive in Manchester at 07:50 tomorrow morning, as long as my flight from Paris isn’t affected by the planned strike by Air France staff.
I’m currently at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin. I arrived here on Wednesday evening and have been speaking and hearing lots of different languages. So far I’ve had conversations in English, French, Welsh, German, Irish and Mandarin, and spoken bits and pieces of Spanish, Italian, Russian, Czech, Portuguese, Toki Pona and Esperanto. I’ve also heard some Finnish, Punjabi, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Slovak, Sardinian, Dutch, Hebrew, Indonesian, Norwegian, Swedish and other languages that I didn’t recognise.
Yesterday I went to talks on Portuguese Creole languages, Greek, language learning and linguistics, how to achieve advanced language competence, and on connections between cartoons and language learning. This morning I’ve been to talks on teaching multiple languages simultaneously, and languages and dialects of Sardinia. All the talks I’ve been to so far have been in English, apart from the Sardinian one, which was in Italian.
I’ve met lots of people I know from previous polyglot events, and lots of new people too. I might try to explore a bit more of Berlin at some point as well.
One popular way to raise bilingual children is for each parent to speak only their native language with their children. For example the father will speak English and the mother will speak Spanish, and the children will acquire both languages. At first the children might mix the languages, but they will soon come to associate one language with each parent. There is also a belief that if the parents mix languages, e.g. the Spanish-speaking parent sometimes speaks English, and the English-speaking parent sometimes speaks Spanish, the children will get confused.
Problems with the OPOL approach
There are problems with the OPOL approach – children is likely get more exposure to one language then to the other, and one language is likely to become dominant. The children may come to prefer that language, especially if both parents speak it, and the children may be able to understand but not speak the non-dominant language. This is quite often the case with minority languages like Welsh and Irish.
It can also be difficult to stick to OPOL when other people are around who only speak one of the languages. For example, if a Spanish/English family is with Spanish-speaking friends, does the parent who only speaks English with the children stick to English, even though the friends might not understand, or do they switch to Spanish? Parents can find such situations stressful and might adapt their approach to context and be more flexible rather than sticking rigidly to OPOL.
Does the OPOL approach actually work?
There are have been a number of the OPOL approach, including a notable one of 2,000 families by Annick De Houwer, which found that children in a quarter of the families did not become bilingual, and that in families where parents mixed languages, as many children became bilingual as in OPOL families.
What is the OPOL approach based on?
Given the popularity of the OPOL approach, you might think that it’s based on sound foundations of research and testing. This is not the case. It has probably been around for a long time, but the first reference to it in modern linguistic literature is in a book from 1913 by Jules Ronjat, a French linguist with a German wife. In 1908, when his son was born, Ronjat asked his colleague, Maurice Grammont, for advice on raising his son bilingually. In a letter Grammont advised Ronjat to speak only French to his son, and for his wife to speak only German. Since then many other people have discussed the OPOL approach, and often cite a book by Grammont, Observations sur le langage des enfants (Observations on Children’s Language) which was supposedly published in 1902, however does not in fact exist, according to François Grosjean. So the OPOL approach is based on the opinion of Maurice Grammont, who published nothing on language acquisition, as expressed in a letter to his colleague Jules Ronjat.
Have you tried or are you trying the OPOL approach?
Did it work / is it working for you?
What problems have you had with it?