Friday, December 26, 2008

Tags and Languages

My first topic for this post is more blog-related, basically that I've started implementing tags. I've seen them used in several other language/linguistics-related blogs, but some of them were so narrowly defined, I found it was ridiculous to even bother using them. So, I've decided to use some relatively broad categories, which will probably get narrower as I continue my study in linguistics. (I think my current working categories are: Typography, Orthography, SLA, Linguistics, Languages, Grammar ...?) In case you're wondering, typography refers to the design of type, while orthography refers to the writing system in general. (So, the difference between writing in English and Japanese is a question of orthography; the difference between Baskerville Old Face and Garamond is a matter of typography).

...and on to languages. the SLA tag will probably appear more and more, now that I'm in this new Applied Language Studies option in school. It's only an option; not even counted as a minor. But I already have one of those, so I guess it's okay... Anyway. From my studies and readings, I've been learning more and more about language development and bilingualism, which invariably leads me to recall past conversations with other non-professional linguists. More of my friends either speak a second language, or have studied at least two other languages apart from the official national language (English), which I suppose is considered pretty extraordinary, given that I don't live in Europe. Well, I suppose it could also say something about the number of friends I have, but... So, most of the people I end up talking to about language will invariably and almost definitely have their own experiences, memories, and opinions about language learning and bilingualism. Things like what it means to be "truly" bilingual, or what "fluency" means. Optimal age of learning a second language, and effects on cognitive development. And for the most part, these are lively and engaging discussions.

But as we know from psych 101 and courthouses, anecdotal evidence is the worst kind of evidence. Everybody's experiences will be unique, and particularly more so because of the perceptual bias in interpreting one's own experiences. And that's fine. That in itself is an eye-opener, to see how others in similar situations would interpret things differently. But sometimes, I wish that some of the people I talk to would be more willing to go beyond their own experiences and just accept mine look to some researched authority for a better understanding of the general phenomena of, say, bilingualism.

So, having personally been raising in a multilingual environment, I would class myself as a simultaneous bilingual. And on the whole, I'm fairly confident that my language development wasn't hindered or retarded by the presence of "contesting" languages vying for brain space. And, thankfully, the research seems to agree with me. Some of my former peers, however, labour under the misapprehension that the opposite is true. I suppose such myths must exist for all disciplines, but since the one I'm interested in is language, I tend to focus on that. So, popular myths relating to language include things like the CPH (Critical Period Hypothesis), which basically states that beyond a certain age (puberty, by most counts), individuals will be unable to master a second language. Others are the previously hinted bilingualism myth, that raising a child in a multilingual environment will slow that child's development or otherwise impair its cognitive skills. Yet another popular one is that there is such a thing as "perfection" in language, and therefore, that there also exists "corruption" of language, even though language is always in a fluid and dynamic state of change.

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