Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Linguistic Tidbits

In my last post, I mentioned that I was having trouble keeping all the linguistic tids and bits in my head from getting tangled. Happens when I am sick or tired sometimes. A brain fog of sorts, I guess (by the way, I've been feverless for a full day now and only have a nasty cough and back ache left to deal with, so I am feeling relatively better now - thanks for everyone's concern).

I never thought mentioning that my foreign languages get mixed with each other could actually cause more than one person to comment. Jo's comment makes me want to get all teachy on you. See, if you look at my profile, you'll see that I studied theoretical linguistics. Actually, before throwing in the towel for the thankless, yet somehow (at least occasionally) fulfilling job of full-time parenting, I was actually working on a doctoral thesis on bilingual language acquisition (how babies - mine - pick up two languages at once). Sounds quite hoity-toity, but pleased don't be too impressed, I didn't get very far before abandoning my efforts. My studies in this realm did, however, provide me with lots of fun linguistic tidbits that qualify as entirely useless information to the task of raising children. Which is why, when you give me even the slightest opening to use this info, I'll jump on the chance.

So, listen up, the product of my who-knows-how-many years of higher education is about to be laid before your very eyes. Don't blink too much. It's short. You might miss it. So, Jo said that when living in Japan, if a Japanese word was eluding her, it would inevitably be the French one (the other foreign language she knew) that would come to mind. Some might find it odd that it wouldn't have been the English word to pop up, since she surely knows that language better.

(Remember: don't blink, here comes the good part)

Well, studies have been done (at great financial cost to somebody, I'm sure) that show that your first language processing takes place in one section of the brain while the processing of a second language takes place in another section. What happens when you throw in a third or fourth or - I bow down to you - fifth language? All those get lumped into the same section as that second language. The result is that the first language is relatively easy to keep separate from the foreign ones, but each foreign language can interfere with the others. Sometimes their little wires can get crossed.

So, when you are speaking Maori, and you can't for the life of you remember the word for 'supercalifragilistics', but then it suddenly comes to you in Swahili, it's only because your brain knows you are in foreign language mode, not native language mode, so when looking for the word that describes the concept you have in mind it is sifting through those entries in the card catalog of the foreign language section of the library. I guess when the brain is fogged over from fatigue or illness (or old age, as I am likely to learn some day), it gets a little less picky as to which foreign language it decides to select from when choosing vocabulary words. Hey, we all get sloppy from time to time. Who can blame the little librarian in your brain?

So, there you have it, folks. I have now unveiled the truth to one of life's least asked questions for you. Yeah, I do what I can for the betterment of mankind. Oh, and if you are wondering how they know this from their study, I'll quickly tell you that, too. It was a neurolinguistics study where they measured brain activity with electrodes and "stuff" (this part was obviously not the bulk of my studies). Then, they asked people to speak their native language and then the foreign ones. They were then able to see which parts of the brain were active when each language was being spoken.

That's pretty much it. And, may I just thank you for endulging me a bit on this. I spent a good portion of my adult life paying to amass this kind of information for what, in the end, turned out to be no apparent reason. I like to feel it served some little purpose from time to time.

Now that we all feel a least .0023% smarter I should resume my real job - the one no amount of education could prepare you for - and go get lunch on the table.