language and mind

June 10, 2012

Apples grow on noses: two languages – two minds?

Filed under: language, language processing, language use, psycholinguistics — teresapelka @ 12:18 pm

Kids may take language tasks easy. Adults might need some time. The New Scientist of May 5th, 2012 provides an article by Catherine de Lange, ‘Mon espirit paratage – My two minds’, that proves it.

“Speaking a second language can change everything from problem-solving skills to personality. It is almost as if you are two people”, she says (or they say). The author quotes an experiment to compare the cognitive progression in monolingual and bilingual children.

“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”.

I am bilingual and I am completely flummoxed. Monolingual kids can hear or read fairy tales. If you told a monolingual kid that long, long time ago, there was a kingdom where apples grew on noses and roses flew to the sea, you wouldn’t hear anything like, ‘gramma is amphigo-ree’, unless the kid would be poking you. Bilingual kids, on the other hand, do not have their vocabularies for lexicons of empty items.

A kid speaking English and French will not have pain for bread, whatever you’d feel like saying about his or her syntactic capacities. More, any attempts at negotiation could look only sick. Seriously sick. Mal a l’oreille.

To appreciate kids’ syntactic abilities, you need to use empty lexical items. For example, ‘Phimos bimoes’, right or wrong? Kids knowing the singular, ‘Phimo’, and the infinitive, ‘to bimo’, would not be likely to show differences, monolingual or bilingual. Bilingualism is not a dissociative disorder.

Bias flaws also another experiment quoted in Catherine de Lange’s article. Mexicans were asked to rate their personalities in Spanish and English. She says, “Modesty is valued more highly in Mexico than it is in the US, where assertiveness gains respect, and the language of the questions seemed to trigger these differences. (…) When questioned in Spanish, volunteers were more humble than when questioned in English”.

Languages, Spanish included, are spoken worldwide, in various cultures and by people of different social standings. Never try to tell a Spaniard that humility would come from his or her language (!)

Feel welcome to visit my grammar blog, travelingrammar.com. My project uses virtual lexical items to encourage syntactic progression. Virtual items do not deny sense: Form can’t be empty. You bet. A todas luces.

Important: the project is not an experiment.

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