Apples grow on noses: two languages – two minds?

Two minds_Speaking a second language can change everything from problem-solving skills to personality. It is almost as if you are two people, says Catherine de Lange.


We can read “Mon espirit paratage — My two minds”, in The New Scientist of May 5th, 2012. Ms. de Lange compares monolingual and bilingual children. Washington Post has her article.


Ms. De Lange reports she tested children on syntax. Both monolinguals and bilinguals could see the mistake in phrases such as “apples growed on trees”, but differences arose when they considered nonsensical sentences such as “apples grow on noses”. The monolinguals, flummoxed by the silliness of the phrase, incorrectly reported an error, whereas the bilinguals gave the right answer, says Ms. de Lange. 



Picture 1. Is there even one nose in the picture, if we do not know what noses count?

Monolingual or multilingual, children get fairy tales. It does not matter, if the kid speaks one or more languages. It it important that the child comprehends the language in which he or she can hear, there was a fairy land, a long time ago, where apples grew on noses.



Picture 2. Do apples grow square, if we have Big Apple Corners?



No matter if in one or many languages ― but dependent on pragmatics ― we could or could not count any noses in picture 1; the Big Apple Corner in picture 2 only might have apples. 




Talking the science, the task was deictically misconstrued, if the account is accurate. The children evidently did not know if they were to tell the syntax or the pragmatics. Further, we can doubt nonsense for a good test on syntax.



Ms. de Lange says she speaks English and French. All languages have spellings. What we write as bread in English is un pain in French.


To a boy as in the picture below, eating bread, a test to neglect semantics might be un mal a l’oreille, seriously sick, you know. This would influence results, as a test during which you would not say a word could be only awfully awkward. You cannot expect to find many boys ― as well as girls ― who do not eat bread, never went shopping with parents or carers, and have no idea how to spell the word.


I believe there is such a “language interface” among many languages. Either the spoken or the written forms happen to have some similarity. It is a natural reaction to distance oneself from ambiguities and “surf” the language form, which seems to be the case with Ms. de Lange results. Multilingual persons are well able to be pragmatic in language use. Monolingual persons are well capable of abstract thinking. The “surfing” is not a linguistic developmental stage: it is enough you are showed how to do this and you can, whether you speak one language or many.


Boy eating bread


To work on syntax, we can use virtual or invented words ― regardless of age. Students might not show if they are monolingual or multilingual, on task.


Phimos can bimo.

A car rolls, a doll dances, a troll hops, and a ball bounces. Toys are things. They can be phimos. Every phimo can bimo. Before long, a kid may tell easy if we are correct saying, The phimo bimo now. :)


Not only syntax, also speaking rewards a degree of autonomy. If we make our virtual words with speech sounds which learners need to exercise, we avoid the flummoxing that verbal associations might bring.

[th] is the sound in mother;

[th] is the sound in father

[th] is the sound in brother;

[th] is the sound in … pother ;)

Virtual words do not have meaning. They can help exercise form.

Bread is always bread; there are many languages.

Multilingualism is becoming an everyday thing in more and more countries and cultures. I like that. I do not like bias about an ability to comprehend, speak, write, read, and communicate in more than one language. It is not true that multilingualism makes one prone for nonsense. Multilingualism does not require any unusual wit, on the other hand. 


The bias in Ms. de Lange’s experiment implies that multilingual kids do not mind if something is real or true, and look to syntax only. Monolingual children would be presented as literal in all language use. Another ethical and linguistic concern comes with Ms. de Lange reporting infant brain scans for experimental purposes.  There is no way to obtain informed consent from an infant. Washington Post has more.

Click to enlarge

Read why I cannot see sense in such scans.

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