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.
“Mon espirit paratage — My two minds”, appeared in the New Scientist of May 5th, 2012. Ms. de Lange compared monolingual and bilingual children. The Washington Post included her article online.
Ms. de Lange tested children on SYNTAX, that is, the way to put words together, to phrase own talk or writing.
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.
Children get to hear or read fairy tales. Whether the kid speaks one or more languages, it is only important that he or she comprehends the words: there was a fairy land, a long time ago, where apples grew on noses.
Let us consider two examples of deictically misconstrued questions.
Picture 1. Is there a real nose in the picture?
(A sculpture of a human face is not a human face, and pictures are not the objects they present.)
Picture 2. Could we have an apple square?
(We may think if there could be an Apple Square next to the Big Apple Corner; we can shape pineapple as well as apple chunks for a fruit salad; we can think fables or science-fiction, and orchards to grow square apples.) 🙂
Without additional information on the context, we cannot answer. Children happen to take up tasks also when they are misconstrued.
Let us think what the world would have to be, should Ms. de Lange have been right. She wrote she spoke English and French.
Monolingual speakers of French would carry shields instead of umbrellas, for “heavy rain”. They would belong with the people who get “flummoxed” with figures of speech, and it rains halberds in French, when it rains cats and dogs in English (in which latter case we would have to think monolingual English people cannot keep appointments, staying home).
We would have to dread multilingual medics. They would belong with the people who do not care what words mean literally. With them, a cardiac case might serve a game of opinion, as well.
We may yet choose to think what the world is really. Both English and French have spoken and written forms.
What we write as bread in English is un pain, in French. What we write as pain in English, is nothing even potentially pleasant, whatever the language.
Speakers of English and French languages have had much contact, in history as well. It must be, in this real world, that human languages rely on semantics, that is, word sense.
Word form alone is not sufficient to make the psychological reality of language. Otherwise, either the French or the English (or both) would have changed their words.
Ms. de Lange should not have inferred on the children’s mental reality, from an experiment to disregard deictics and word sense. For and idea to exercise solely syntax, feel welcome to the Grammar Web Log,
Generally, experimentation on children raises ethical concerns, and honestly, for language acquisition, there is no need to experiment: it is enough to listen and talk.
A very serious ethical concern comes with Ms. de Lange reporting infant brain scans for experimental purposes. There is no way to obtain informed consent from an infant.
I generally do not think language science should rely on scans. Feel welcome to read.
HUMAN BRAINS, PARAMETERS AND DEVICES