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Science

Bilingual Brain Explored 50

Posted by timothy
from the but-only-from-the-outside dept.
Aurorya writes: "Nature.com posts this article about the this brain activities in bilingual versus monolingual people. The article states that when a bilingual person reads a list of words with one language in mind, the words are "heard" in the brain, and those words of another understood language or jibberish are ignored in the same way; the brain makes no effort to recall the meaning of the word in the other language. This is in contrast to monoligual folks, who search for meaning immediately."
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Bilingual Brain Explored

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  • I'm really not surprised at this, although I do think its a cool 'feature' of the brain. Back in high school, I took 3 years of French. Sometimes it got to the point that I would think of and say a response in French before having translated it into English. It is actually a surprising and odd feeling at first, to find yourself thinking in another language. It does, however, make it easier to process speech if you dont have to translate twice before responding. I am really not very fluent in French, so I'm sure the effect is amplified for those who are truly bilingual. The fact that they've found a physical explanation for this is very interesting.
  • Sounds about right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheReverand (95620) on Thursday February 28, 2002 @06:05PM (#3087073) Homepage
    I'm English by birth, but I spent a lot of time in France as a child, so I'm pretty fluent at French. I've quite often had conversations in French and only realised afterwards which language I was speaking in.

    Also, I find that I start to think in French if I've been speaking it for a few hours. (If I was a troll, I'd make some remark about English, the more flexible language, being better suited to thought, which explains why we're so much smarter than them :) ) I don't do this on purpose, it just happens.

    • Also, I find that I start to think in French if I've been speaking it for a few hours.

      My wife is from Brazil, and doesn't speak English. We communicate in Portuguese, which I've been learning for the past three years.

      I have found that an excellent way to practice my language skills is to attempt to do my thinking in Portuguese. It's not always easy, especially when I don't know the right word in Portuguese, but generally I can think a "concept" using smaller words.

      My thoughts may seem like child's thoughts[1], in this respect, but everyone I talk to (in Portuguese) is amazed at how little accent I have. Some Brazilians have asked me where (in Brazil) I'm from! My grammar and conjugation give me away; I haven't had lessons (other than the "Better Off Dead" style &lt Howard Cosell&gt language lessons &lt/Howard Cosell&gt ;-).

      I also try to translate song lyrics, in real-time, as I listen to the song. It's not always possible, but it's a great way to flex my skills.

      [1] - Children pick up language much faster than adults. Perhaps I've hit on something?

    • I'm Dutch but I've followed bilingual education since I was 10. For four years half my education was in English and half in Dutch and my last two years in high school I had IB Englisch classes (A2 higher). Now I mostly think in English which I started doing since I went to high school (age=10). Don't ask me why, but I do. I reckon that's the first sign of bilingualism.
      • I learned that a native speaker of a language will always perform math in their heads in their native tongue. I read a story in school (correct me if I'm wrong on the details) that the Netherlands was able to find spies during world war 2 by making them either do long division out loud or say the number 888. (I've heard the number spoken..and I apologize on how hard it is :)). Only a TRUE native can say 888 in Dutch flawlessly.
        • (I'm Dutch) Hmmm, maths? Physics I do mostly in English since my first encounter with physics was in english (and nowadays it is still in english (university)). I don't know actually, next time I'm computing some divisions or differentials I'll pay attention to my thinking.
          And yeah, it's hard to pronounce 888 in "civilized" Dutch (Dutch spoken in "Holland", the western part of the Netherlands), but I don't really see how you can find spies with that. Not everyone pronounces it the same and in the southern part of NL it's a "soft" g/ch instead of the hard/rough pronounciation in the north.
  • by filtrs (548248)
    From the article:

    "Those fluent in two languages rarely mix them up."

    IANALR (I am not a linguistics researcher), but in my experience, most people always seem to be more fluent in one toungue than another. There are many bilingual individuals I've met who constantly jump back and forth between languages mid-sentence (especially when angry/ranting/upset). The article doesn't go into enough depth on this for me.

    Is the entire study online? Anyone with a link?
    • Well, I guess it depends on what your definition of bilingual is.

      My first language is Dutch, and I have been living in the USA for almost 6 years now. I don't consider myself to be 'truly' bilingual, since I only started learning English at age 8 or so.

      Anyway, my experience is that people who speak two (or three, or more) languages well, generally do not mix them up. It's the people who are struggling with the 2nd language that are the ones that fall back on the 1st language when they get angry, emotional, or drunk.

      Switching languages mid-sentence, sure, I've done that, but only when I wanted to. It usually happens when I speak Dutch to another Dutch person, and a non-Dutch speaking person joins the conversation. Out of courtesy, I then switch to a language that everyone understands.

      Again, it depends on the definition of "bilingual". The article is less than clear about that.
      • or drunk

        interesting. but not always. my japanese flows so naturally when I'm drunk (and I wouldn't even consider it a 2nd language for me... even after 4 years I still think of it as a hobby). no its not just my imagination either! the only time I seem to get compliments on my japanese speaking skills are when I have been drinking. I dunno if thats necessarily a good thing...
    • I know that I certainly does it, most computer programmers do it often, if they don't talk English as a first language, it's just too painful to talk about technical terms in non-english, because that is what we all learned it on.
    • I think it depends on where you are with a particular language. I studied several languages, and have found really strange things go on inside my head. There seems to be a hierarchy on how well I know the language. English and French live in separate spaces.

      When I speak spanish, I revert to French for unknown words. When I try to speak Portuguese, I revert into Spanish. When learning a new language, the new language seems to start by sharing the memory space of an existing language. Then grandually the mind separates it into its own space.

      I also find it extremely interesting how I learn differt computer languages. I programmed in Basic for years before moving to C++, Java, PHP and other languages. When I first started programming in c, I kept trying to do things the Basic way. It took a long time for c to separate into its own space. Oddly enough, when I wanted to learn Java, I was able to separate the two languages more rapidly, as if my brain remembered the problems I had with c and Basic.

      I really don't think this phenomena is exclusive to language. When we launch into a new subject, our minds have to decide if it is something completely new (requiring a new memory space) or just a addition to stuff already on file.
    • One of my funniest examples of mixing languages up was speaking English (my mother tongue) with a German accent after working for 2 weeks at a trade show in Duesseldorf...

      Speaking French with a Quebecois accent after a week with a customer in Montreal makes perfect sense. I guess.

      Yes, I sometimes dream in languages other than English.

      Occasionally, just to screw around, I'll phrase things in English as literal translations from other languages - e.g. "I must get myself in gear the ass" and "By me there is a not-ness of coffee!" for "I must get my ass in gear" and "I have no coffee!" I leave the source languages as an exercise for the reader...

      Languages are a goodness. They beat the hell out of card games.

      ...laura

  • by nickynicky9doors (550370) on Thursday February 28, 2002 @06:08PM (#3087092)

    It has been many and many a year since I read the most part of what was then Chomsky's output on language but recall suggests his theory of transformational grammar might embrace something along the lines suggested in the article.

    From the article: "Their studies of brain activity reveal that bilinguals reject words that are not part of the language they are speaking - before working out what the words mean."
    "Bilinguals use a different processing pathway, the team suggests, which sounds out the word first. The fMRI images showed that a brain area involved in spelling out letters is active when rejecting Catalan and pseudowords. The pronunciation rules of Spanish or Catalan might work as a filter, recognizing words in the inappropriate language. Speakers switch filters when they switch between languages."

    This begs the question of what the filter might be. Does any one language exhibit an underlying structure that permits a 'filter'? But then what of dialects? We know brain cells create new neural networks so it might be permitted to loosely conjecture the 'filter' as a different configuration of the cells in the language areas. I have yet to find any definitive work on how fast brain cells can realign and create new networks but my recent readings suggest new networks are generated much faster than once thought. Dropping all pretense of rigor or of any discipline, I'm of the opinion we'll find brain cell configuration and reconfiguration is the most underutilized and fundamental aspect of creativity and learning much akin to general suppleness of form.
    Cheers thnx for the pointer.

  • by cheezehead (167366) on Thursday February 28, 2002 @07:05PM (#3087488)
    Not sure if this is offtopic, I think it's mostly on-topic, but anyway.

    Some years ago I was reading an interview with the well-known neurologist Oliver Sacks (of "Awakenings" fame), and he was describing how he was amazed by a relative of his, who was an interpreter, and who described her thought processes when translating. Turned out that what she described was completely alien to him, since he was strictly monolingual.

    I was completely shocked.
    Here's how Sacks' relative described it. If you speak more than one language, you don't simply think in "words". There's ideas, images, sounds, smells, and other harder to describe concepts. The process of translating is not a look-up process ("this word means that word", etc.). You need to absorb what is written or said in one language, translate that into ideas, concepts, emotions and what not, and then express those ideas in another language. You also have to place what you hear and say in the proper context. Often this has to be done 'on-the-fly', so the fact that multiple brain regions are involved doesn't surprise me.

    What shocked me was that Sacks (and apparently a lot of monolingual people) didn't experience this at all! I was under the assumption that everybody's brain worked like this. So, apparently there is a lot of truth to the theory that language is a defining factor in structuring the human brain. According to the research, there is a significant difference between one and two languages, let alone the difference between zero and one language.
    • If you speak more than one language, you don't simply think in "words". There's ideas, images, sounds, smells, and other harder to describe concepts. The process of translating is not a look-up process ("this word means that word", etc.).

      When studying foreing languages, I have seen that I have 3 "stages" of knowledge.

      1- low. Speaking (or translation) is strictly word-by-word transfer from my main language, and works badly because many of the needed words in the new language are not known.

      2- medium. Speaking/translation is mostly word-by-word, except for some well-know phrases (usually the expressions that don't match well between the two languages). It works slowly because translating is a look-up process, but it's reliable, i.e. unless you hit an unknown word you can easily map one word onto the other.

      3- high. Speaking is done direct from ideas to words, I don't pass anymore from my main language. Translation becomes hard, since the look-up approach is lost and now it's necessary to "switch context" between one language and the other and see what concept is associated to which word in the two cases. The translation ends up being very non-literal, since phrases are translated in a single shot. Languages may be mixed up (intentionally) when a word in one language is more effective at describing one idea than any in the other language.
      • by iiii (541004)
        There is an interesting parallel to this in Sign Language. Sign communication spans a wide spectrum. At the "low" end of the spectrum is Signed English, which basically is english communicated in sign. English can be transliterated by signing or spelling each word. On the other end of the spectrum is ASL (American Sign Language) which has a grammer and idiom of it's own (although some english words are used within that grammar). To translate from English to ASL, or vice-versa, you have to grasp the idea and context then create a new representation of it in the target language. Most real sign communication is in the middle ground, or pidgin, incorporating parts from both.

        The ideas in this thread also parallel the object-oriented concepts of separating representation from view, e.g. M-V-C. Seems natural that brains work that way for some processes.

  • Dual Speech (Score:4, Interesting)

    by akiaki007 (148804) <aa316@nyu . e du> on Thursday February 28, 2002 @07:19PM (#3087582)
    I am bilingual. Hindi is my 1st language, and English my 2nd (Spanish as a 3rd, but I'm not fluent in that). Anyway, I often, when talking to my parents or others who speak Hindi, will use both Hindi and English interchangibly mainly because there are certain things that are easier said or explained in one language over the other. There are some words that don't exist (a description does) in one language, so I would use the other. While I could speak stricly in one, it's easier to speak in both. I don't think about doing this, I just do. I would have to think harder to speak just in one language.

    The study results were interesting, but I would love to see more in depth analysis of this, or perhaps some further study info, etc. Anyone have anything?
    • This is extremely common, and linguists have a name for it -- it's called code mixing (or sometimes code switching).

      When I speak with people who speak the same languages I do, I very often will mix languages; sometimes this is for convenience because one word describes what I mean better than another, but often it is simply a question of which word pops into my head, as it were.

      Actually, when speaking English to someone, I will often mentally "reject" three or four candidate words that pop into my head as I speak, because they are in the "wrong" language. When given the freedom to code mix, I just turn this part of my brain off, and let whichever word comes into my head first be the one uttered.

      What is more confusing to me is grammatical code switching -- whereby I unconciously choose the syntax (or sometimes even morphology) of a particular language while using the vocabulary of another. Inflection of English words according to French words, for example -- or even weirder, the replacement of English articles with French ones. The latter is strange because French articles are gender marked, and I find myself picking the "right" gender (according to French) while using an English word (which of course has no gender, ships not withstanding.)

      • As a student of three foreign languages (at once, right now, in college), I try to avoid "code mixing" as much as possible and view it as a weakness in my language acquisition.

        According to Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct (and I'm sure other sources), there are almost switches in our brains for head-first or head-last grammar, nomative languages, the concept of dative, different pools for vocabulary, etc. I think code mixing is sort of like double-dipping, where you get the blue paint in the red jar, and you have to make efforts to get your pure red again.

        Can you perhaps describe a situation in which you would want to code mix? (Besides for rhetoric or for entertainment purposes at linguistic cocktail parties...) I would feel so guilty doing it on purpose!

        • I suppose that your avoidance is a good thing, considering that one should learn rules, then understand those rules, before breaking them. IMO, this is the background that is commonly forgotten in the phrase "all rules are meant to be broken."

          Perhaps it is good excercise for your brain, to keep variant languages distinct. This may increase mental capacity and flexibility, and may aid cognition in further pursuits.

          As the parent described, code mixing can provide for greater expressiveness, as long as all codes are common among participants. Personally, I can't envision a circumstance where grammatical code mixing can be beneficial, unless obfuscation is the intended result. It would be a strectch, but perhaps there are circumstances where grammar mixing might overcome communicative deficiencies, perhaps because of the communications medium. This might become evident when considereing: a croweded environment full of interference; an echoing chamber, an electronic voice reproduction; and various forms of written communication. Again, this is highly speculative.

          More feasible is vocabulary code mixing. Many languages have words for concepts that cannot be sufficiently expressed with native words, so foreign vocabulary is regularly adopted by natural languages. While vocabulary mixing may be subconsious in populations living along language-borders, there may also be instances of conscious efforts towards language unification. Esperanto is the most blatant example of this I am aware of, but it may also take place in communities with recent immigration.

          In an academic environment, code mixing should definitely be avaioded unless a deliberate part of social research. Once you feel comforatble with the languages, and use then in non-academic situations, then it may be worth re-evaluating code mixing. As you are formally educated, it would be your responsibility to consider the intended audience's prior experience and understnding.

          -castlan
          • Whew, that's sort of what I was hoping to hear! Thanks! I can understand the desire to code mix through vocabularies, but I still would withold from doing it for the same reasons as mucha s possible.

            For more information on the mixing of vocabularies with lots of immigrat populations, you should read The Language Instinct my Pinker. I think chapter 3 or 4, somewhere in the beginning, deals with that exact phenomenon, and it's REALLY interesting! Kids are amazing with it, in short.

            Sometimes I wonder if, need I at some point turn off my anti-code-mixing brain part (say I get really drunk or in a sticky situation abroad) if anyone else would be able to understand it. Japanese, German, French? Who else knows German and Japanese? [siiiiiiigh]

            • I honestly don't know much about Japanese. But I suspect (just a hunch) that as long as you kept your verbs consistent, you could mix and match nouns and still come out rather understandable. Sort of like in "Jabberwocky". Hmm, let me change that... I can also see the inverse being true as well. I suppose it would matter the context of the situation, and the subject matter.

              Did you say that you are learning German, French and Japanese simultaneously? Which would you say has been hardest, or least difficult to learn? I always understood French to be just a metter of learning the vocabulary once the grammer was understood. On the other hand, I believe Mark Twain had some criticism regarding German "having more exceptions than rules".

              One other thing, are you familiar with the Sapir-Whorf Theorem? It has been called by other names as well, but it basically specifies IIRC that expressive capability of a language can influence the range of the native speaker's thought. Have you found that you had ideas that you couldn't properly express before, that you now have the proper liguistic tools to vocalize? Or that with new language skills you have gained new insights and points of view that you didn't previously concieve? I guess I wonder how fluent you are with your languages... do you find you internally translate to/from English, or do you directly "think" in various languages?

              Just as I side note, I would be really tempted to get you drunk just to hear what comes out of you. :D that sounds like fun! I'd wanna have a tape recorder handy, of course....

              -castlan
              • All languages are "just a matter of learning the vocabulary once the grammar [is] understood". French...well, I suppose you could say French is "easier" because you can basically translate word-for-word into English, with very few word-order flops or change in connotations for many of the latin-based English words. It's kind of nice to already have a grasp of 25% of the words!

                German you can probably read simple things after about a month of study because it looks like old-school Enlgish slang, but the word order is pretty different. It's very intuitive, but different from English. (Except for old phrases like "with this ring do I thee wed" and such.) So you have to translate more like sentence for sentence.

                Japanese is a different beast. These people lived on their islands for thousands of years with very little influence and developed some really different things. Totalyl different from Chinese grammar structure. It's very simple. If any part of a sentence has been used recently except the verb (which is without fail at the end), you don't repeat it. So you ahve to translate paragraph for paragraph. Plus the yhave just as many idioms and little tricks as English, so exposure is the key.

                Sapir-Whorf Theorem? I hadn't heard of that! When I get back from class (Japanese) I'll have to look it up. Actually, just the other day I discovered that the word for "lonely" in Japanese (sabishii) can be used for more than just people. Like if you're eating dinner and you want butter but there isn't any out, you are "lonely" for butter. So I was thinking that I needed something, but more in the "sabishii" sense than any sense you can come up with in Enlgish. I'm sure I would have had the same thought, but if asked to explain it, by filtering it through Enlgish i would have lost some of my original meaning. It's cool that you mentioned that just now!

                And YES I get stuck in different languages, I was in a German swing all this week, dreaming in it, etc., which was great for German class, but awful for teh other two. I would just keep dipping into my German pools for Japanese words instead of just thinking in Japanese. (I've studied French for about 7 years so I rarely have a problem with it.)

                blah blah blah me me me. Do you study languages? Maybe you should email me: phillipm@carleton.edu

  • English is my first language, pig latin is my second. I can speak fluent pig latin and understand it when spoken fluently. No, I am not joking. I can even use Google's pig latin translation with no problem, and occasionally do. The only thing I can't do well with it is type. Does this qualify me as being bilingual, or just truly bizaar?

    Note: in case anyone is wondering, me and my sister used to go out with large groups of both of our friends, and we practiced pig latin at home so we could have private conversations at these get togethers. Everyone knew we were using pig latin, but we are so fluent that no one was able to learn it from listening to us.
    • Since there is a very direct translation between the two languages, the brain might be able to deal with this in a far simpler way than when speaking a truly foreign language. You don't express things differenlty in pig latin, I assume?


      But, you should really have learned Japanese or something, back then. Far more useful in the long run ;-).

    • Pig Latin technically is not a "language"..it's more like cryptography...a word by word "transliteration". When hearing a person speaking another language, and I can understand them, and then someone asks me to interpret..I can't. I "knew" what they said, but I couldn't relay it back in English. That would be forcing me to think in English. I often read foreign newspapers online. When someone asks me "what it means", I am lost. I understood it completely, because I was "thinking" in the language. I would have to "think" in English and somehow form those thoughts in another tongue. Exceedingly difficult for me. Which is why I think an interpreter is an amazing individual. Even when "kids" interpret for their non-english speaking parents. When you learn a foreign language, you get inside their heads. Which is why Japanese people traditionally didnt like Americans speaking Japanese. If you know their language , you know "them"!
  • by xtremex (130532) <cguru@@@bigfoot...com> on Thursday February 28, 2002 @07:58PM (#3087777) Homepage
    I have always loved languages and that is my second "passion" besides computers. I am fluent in 17 languages (reading and writing them..NOT speaking them). The first time I realized I could understand a language as well as I could with English is when I rented a foreign film in the mid 80's. It DID'NT have subtitles, but I thought they did. Because I was able to understand it. I THOUGHT it had subtitles...it was a very weird thing, because I lent it to a friend, and he told me there were none.I was shocked! Another thing that amazed me, was something like the Australian Aboriginal language Walpurgi. It has no concept of numbers higher than 22 (men count to 21, women count to 22...figure it out).
    But, when they learn English, they can comprehend finite mathematics. THAT's amazing. In their language, anything higher than 22 is called "more than 22". So, a million is "more than 22". I'm on a roll now. We're discussing the OTHER love of mine. Linguistically, they say that American Indians migrated from South America..not from the Bering Strait. South AMerican Indian languages disperse linguistically if you move north. While Athapascan languages (Iroquois) have ZERO similarity to Guarani (Bolivia), they have root words that are similar...like ?ge- for tree. In Guarani, ?ge- is the tree root, while in Iroquois it's ^hi (meaning wood). (g and h being related phenomes)
    How about a relation to Latin and Eskimo(Inuit?). The word for single in Eskimo is tikitoq. tikit- being the root...digitus is "digit" in Latin...digit- being the root.. Coincidence? Maybe...
    But only when you perform etymological work do you confuse languages. It's also easier to learn them, once you comprehend grammatical patterns. Grammar is the easiest part. Vocab is the hardest. Learn grammar first. Vocab can always be learned. (Just like programming languages).
    But, Human languages are illogical. For example, Eskimo is an agglutanitive language (like Turkish or Hungarian)...Qingmiqataluktoq..
    Qinqmiq-atalu-k-t ok (I hit the dog)...[Dog-hit-past-active mood-present tense modifier]...string particles together to form a complete "thought". Very much like Java. But of course, there are MANY irrregularities. To native speakers, it just sounds wrong if it's spoken any other way...like saying "I eated". You understand it, yet it makes you chuckle. Americans have this bad habit of NOT correcting foreigners when they use the wrong terminology. I love it when I get corrected. I don't want to sound like a moron!
    OK..my diatribe is over :)
  • by sean23007 (143364) on Thursday February 28, 2002 @08:19PM (#3087865) Homepage Journal
    I was born and raised in America, and I consider myself monolingual, though I have studied Spanish and Latin for 4 years each. My point is, I don't find that I "think" in any language, English or otherwise. This always made it harder to speak Spanish, because English is better suited to abstract imagery than the Spanish they teach you in high school. The way I find that I think is in images, both moving and still, and in order to communicate, I need to translate these images into a language (English).

    When people say they can't "hear themselves think," I don't know what to make of it. Does anyone else find that they don't think in any language?
    • Your experience is not uncommon. Especially among people who have never experienced auditory stimulus. Ever ask a deaf person about their internal dialogue, and you will get a blank stare. However, in all fairness to these studies, this sheds important light on how the general populace uses language. For instance, we have known for decades, that insults in an area of the brain on the brain we call Wernicke's area correlated to a sensory dysphagia, in which the person could talk, but they made no sense. They could not comprehend language and were unable to recognize their disability, yet spoke fluently in what is called word salad. What is of interest is that similar patients that are bilingual, who suffer focal insults to this sensitive area, can have preservation of their second or acquired language while losing their native language. This study helps us further understand this phenomenon as well as give us some insight into the inner workings of the language centers of the brain. The caution here is not to label these areas and develop a phrenelogical concept of the brain. (ie. This part of the brain is where all my math ability lies and this is where my highschool locker number is stored) The brain is complex and that is the true error in the conclusions of this paper. It tries to over simplify their findings and label the "neurons" where language is stored.
  • by Snafoo (38566) on Thursday February 28, 2002 @10:14PM (#3088266) Homepage
    ...but have they managed to explain why French sounds sexy to Americans, whilst Canadians find Spanish more erotic, and both can think of naught but canned pasta in tomato sauce when they hear Italian?

    Romance languages: Especially meaningful to anglos that don't speak them.(tm)
    • ...but have they managed to explain why French sounds sexy to Americans, whilst Canadians find Spanish more erotic

      Quite simple really, there are still millions of french-speaking canadians, so french doesn't sound exotic to canadians, while americans think it does 'cause they don't think of it as a national language, its foreign, so its sexy.

      Its just a question of sounding romantic, foreign, exotic.
  • I was fortunate enough to learn a second human language (German) in high school AFTER I had learned a couple computer languages. I had already gained experience in learning different grammars and vocabularies in simple (computer) languages before delving into another human language.

    My German teacher stressed often that we were NOT to translate the German into English (my first language) to understand it. Let the mind THINK in German. I am so grateful for that exhortation!

    Since then, I've programmed in about 20 other languages and spent two years testing a compiler, too. I often found myself thinking about how I thought in those different languages. Though I can't begin to explain the details to anyone, I came to an awareness that I had developed a meta-language of abstractions of concepts. (Analagous to the idea that all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.)

    While I was testing that compiler, I happened upon something that utterly fascinated me: translations of gibberish in English into other languages! That is, "Jabberwocky" [pair.com] by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). There is no possible literal translation, and yet when I read the German translation of it, I was amazed at how it had captured the "sense" of the poem -- rhyme, meter, even imagery! None other that Douglas R. Hofstadter wrote a lucid and illuminating piece on Translations of Jabberwocky [pair.com] -- it's a MUST READ!

    For more fun, check out Jabberwocky Variations [pair.com] which contains links to translations in 29 different languages and 23 Parodies, too!

  • My best language is English, by far, but I grew up with Japanese in the home. My Japanese vocabulary is small, so it's a common experience for me to hear Japanese and recognize it as Japanese, but to be unable to understand it fully because of my limited vocabulary.

    Once, while flipping through TV channels, I came upon a newscast that was being given in Korean. I'm not sure if it was the person's accent, but it sounded just like Japanese to me. I listened for a good ten seconds firmly convinced I was hearing Japanese, and I could almost feel my language circuits spinning madly, trying to make syntactic sense of the sounds. All the while, I just thought it was another case of insufficient vocabulary.

    Anyways, it took an astonishingly long time for me to realize that I couldn't even separate the sentences into their constituent words, let alone figure out what those words mean.

    I'm really not sure how much I agree with the article, but my experience would suggest that the sounds of Korean were similar enough to get past this "filter," leaving me convinced I was hearing Japanese, and trying to establish the meaning of phrases I couldn't possibly understand.

    Interesting.

    • I speak Japanese and Spanish, and my girlfriend is a Korean who learned English after moving here when she was young. Turns out that Korean has the almost EXACT same grammer, just different words which are more similar to Chinese. For example, the wa in Japanese is nah in Korean....her step-father, another Korean National, had a Japanese accent when he spoke in English. Bizaare, isn't it? At least you know you're not crazy, I get the same mix-up :) Dogg
  • by xtremex (130532) <cguru@@@bigfoot...com> on Friday March 01, 2002 @03:08PM (#3092720) Homepage
    Klingon is based on American Indian Languages. Primarily Athapascan (Cherokee,Choctaw, Iroquois, et al).
    Not the vocabulary, but the grammar. The sounds are based on Georgian.When I first got the Klingon Dictionary, I noticed how familiar the grammar patterns looked to me. I whipped out my cherokee (tsalagi) grammar (don't ask :)) and did a comparison. It was practically identical! To me, the majority of Native American languages have a more logical structure (yet so difficult, it'll make your hair fall out). On the topic of difficult languages, besides Native American languages (which definitely take the prize in complexity), I'd have to say Georgian is the most difficult language I've ever come across.
    It literally made my BRAIN hurt contemplating that grammar! What the hell is a screeve???? (Any Georgian natives, please help me out!)
  • Here in canada, we got 2 national languages. Its not evenly distributed of course, most provinces have assimilated the french populations (or killed 'em or deported them, etc), others have been a bit annoyed at having the english invade them and have retaliated with french-protection laws. Lets just say that it makes politics entertaining :)

    So anyways, there are englophones, and francophones, and there are a few people who consider themselves bilingual.
    I never thought of those people as special, until I heard a couple of teenagers talk in frenglish: They were using an even mix of french and english, both in grammar and in vocabulary. Ok, so you'd think its just a bastard tongue, but the amazing thing is that they would switch from using a word in english or the same word in french, seemingly at randow, and they could just switch to any one of the 2 languages for a whole sentence sometimes.
    I was quite fascinating to listen to (I speak both french and english, but I can't do what they were doing in that natural and very fast way that they were doing it, I could however, totally understand them, even though I could not talk like that!).

    I can't even give you a text imitation of it...my brain can't merge the 2 grammars...

    It was like the Bable Fish exploded...

    PS Anybody feeling like a flame thrower about canadian politics: shove it. This post is about merging languages, not who's province as the ugliest prime minister...
    • Things like this seemed pretty common to me late in my high school years. The population of the high school consisted of quite a few non-native speakers, but towards the end of high school, after living here for so long, I would see lots of people who would just start talking in one language then switch to another. Especially when it was just getting good :\

    • I know what you mean completely, although I live on the Mexican-American border instead of in Canada. My high school class (and community) is a melting pot of languages including Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and other languages. Although, most of those languages are in niches and most people only speak English, with a significant amount of people also speaking Spanish and some only speaking Spanish. "Spanglish" in my city is also very common. Let me elaborate.

      Before I elaborate, let me describe where I live. My home of El Paso, Texas is the only major city in the U.S. that is directly across from Mexico. By that I mean that if you cross the bridge from downtown El Paso (or at another bridge) to Mexico you are in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

      Although there are middle and upper class people that speak Spanglish, it appears that the closer the person is to poverty (or maybe youth), the more likely the person speaks Spanglish. In one sentence alone you can hear English words, Spanish words, and "Spanglish" words said with both English and Spanish (or rather, American and Mexican) accents. By "Spanglish" words I mean words that are from English or Spanish but been assimilated into the other language, often using pronunciation rules from both languages, i.e. cake -> cayqui (but spelled cake).

      It might be interesting to note the culture. As a 17 year old living in El Paso who just returned from a trip, I have noticed how all the cultures I'm exposed to have mixed. Culture has a new meaning where I live. Most of my community is affected by it. Sometimes we don't even know where a culture-related custom or idea came from. It is as if language and culture as clear-cut, distinctive entities don't exist.
  • Ok, admittedly I speak three languages; English, Hungarian and Spanish (the Cuban flavor of it... and yes there is a big difference). So the monolinguist concept does not apply to me. I was born into a family where Hungarian was the primary language and I only spoke Hungarian until about 4. By the age of 5 I was completely bilingual (added English) and by 10 lost most of the Hungarian. At 28 Istarted to relearn my mother tongue and it was a very hard process. Spanish I picked up in jr high and high school but didn't use(and had to learn a different version than what I was taught in school) until I moved to Miami.

    Hold on a sec, I am not here to present my life story just a thought; In all the years learning and unlearning languages I picked up a few others and this may shatter several of your impressions about yourselves being monolinguistic English only speakers;

    If you are a coder you probably alrteady 'speak', 'read' and 'write' syntactically correctly in several 'foreign' languages like perl, C, VB, LISP, etc. I wonder how this would have affected the research. Any ideas from real linguistics folks out there???

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