“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 compares monolingual and bilingual children. The Washington Post has included the article online.
Ms. de Lange describes her testing children on syntax. Syntax is about the way we phrase our 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”, says Ms. de Lange.
Monolingual or multilingual, children get to hear or read fairy tales. It does not matter, if the kid speaks one or more languages. It is important that the child comprehends the words: there was a fairy land, a long time ago, where apples grew on noses.
Figurative thinking does not disturb syntax, and more, children learn early that words can have more than one meaning, also when the talk is for real. Whether 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.
Language pragmatics deals with talk in context and with work on ambiguity.
PICTURE 1. IS THERE EVEN ONE NOSE IN THE PICTURE, IF WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT NOSES COUNT?
PICTURE 2. DO APPLES GROW SQUARE, IF WE HAVE BIG APPLE CORNERS?
Thinking psycholinguistics for the science, the task was most probably deictically misconstrued. The children did not know what noses the talk was about, and thus if to focus on syntax or pragmatics.
Ms. de Lange says she speaks English and French. Humorously, but to follow her observations, with English and French, we would have to imagine monolingual people carrying shields instead of umbrellas, for heavy rain. They would be the people to 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 people cannot keep appointments, staying home).
We would have to dread multilingual medics, fearing they would be the people to take cardiac cases for a game of opinion. They would be the people not to care what a matter literally might denote.
Quite seriously, both English and French have spoken and written forms. What we write as “bread” in English is “un pain”, in French.
Not only to a child, a test to neglect word sense would be a sort of mal a l’oreille. Without semantics, a multlilingual person would be left with some “phonological interface” only, for linguistic discernment.
What is likely to happen then (and I believe happened, in Ms. de Lange study), people go “surfing” the language form. The “surfing” is not a developmental stage. Monolingual or multilingual, very young or more advanced in age, people can learn to “surf” ― for a joke.
Natural language progress for syntax is more likely to have virtual or invented words. They have an extra advantage. They let exercise speech sounds without the flummoxing that verbal associations might bring, especially to very young minds:
[th] is the sound in mother;
[th] is the sound in father
[th] is the sound in brother;
[th] is the sound in… pother. 😉
We do not have to depend on nature; we can encourage syntax, in children as well as grown-up people. 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 learner may tell easy, if we are correct saying,
The phimo bimo;
or if we should say,
The phimo bimoes. 🙂
Phimos can bimo.
Multilingualism is becoming an everyday thing in more and more countries and cultures. I like that.
I do not like bias about language and mentality. The simple, common sense fact of life is that bread is bread, whether a person speaks one or more languages.
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. I have never experimented, and I would have mixed feelings. When you experiment, you introduce factors that naturally would not be there. 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. Feel welcome to read why I do not see sense about such scans.
Naturalness does not require we never try anything novel. The method here would not fit an experiment well. I invented it in childhood, worked on it for some 30 years for own language progress, it is complete, and it does not have the “open ends” that experimentation explores. Feel also welcome.