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51100Re: [Czechlist] ISSUES: Issues

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  • James Kirchner
    Mar 7, 2013
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      Melvyn, I know plenty of good language professionals who admit that their command of their native language is affected by prolonged immersion in a different language, and they have to develop strategies for dealing with the problem.

      The problem may not be evident in some contexts, such as when teaching an intermediate ESL class, or in some writing, but in other situations it's evident that the language has deteriorated in deeper ways, not because the people lost their language, but because certain things get cached in the brain and are temporarily less accessible. In my case, I could not drag up the names of some public figures from back home, and I could not yank up the lyrics to Christmas carols or some other songs. These all returned to me once I was home.

      In fact, this is one reason interpreting is a special skill that not every translator can do. Some people are very good at (and have trained themselves) to access all the language in their brain on the fly, while others have to do work where they get more time to pull things up.

      When I am exposed to nonstandard dialects of English in my own environment, it may or may not affect my speech, depending on the type of exposure. I tend to absorb the language around me very fast, so, for example, five minutes talking to someone across the river in Canada changes my pronunciation without my wanting it to, although not my grammar, because those Canadians speak standard English but pronounce it differently.

      However, when I worked a low-pay factory job for a few years with speakers of "African-American Vernacular English", that 40 hours a week around a different grammatical structure actually did affect my grammatical judgements. I didn't get all the way to saying things like, "You shoulda been told me," (i.e. you should have told me a very long time ago) or, "I will return and be back" (i.e. I will return and stay), but I was liable to come out with things like, "Did you ever be sitting in front of TV and..." That's quite analogous to someone just coming home from the CR and using English continuous tenses inappropriately because his brain has temporarily conflated them with the Czech imperfective.

      I don't think it has anything to do with whether someone is a "language professional" or not. It probably has more to do with how deeply the expat absorbs his surroundings and the mental boundaries he sets. Americans in Marianske Lazne who barely integrated themselves into the local society never had any problem at all. Those of us who didn't feel it necessary to cling to our own expat community (in fact, very little of my social life was with English speakers) had more trouble.

      One thing I also wonder is whether the problem is different for people whose native dialect of their own language is not the standard one. Those people have to monitor their own language a good deal of the time, so they may not be as susceptible to the creeping influence of a second language on their first. Other people (I'm one of them) grew up not having to pay much attention to their language at all, because they already spoke their country's standard dialect, so since they aren't monitoring monitoring their English much, influences creep in.

      Now here's a strange one: When I was living in the CR, my spoken German and French shriveled to almost nothing. When I returned home, I decided I'd better drill them to get them back. I chose German first, but as it turned out, I didn't need to drill French much, because drilling German also brought back my French.


      On Mar 7, 2013, at 6:39 AM, Melvyn wrote:

      > These people with the language atrophy issues are clearly not language professionals. They need to be made more aware of the pitfalls involved and what can be done about them, because there is nothing at all inevitable about this degeneration IMHO. I am no expert but I would point them in the direction of reasonably proficient bilinguals in their own communities. Worldwide, bilinguals are supposed to outnumber the "monos" - surely a good proportion of them are pretty proficient. They can't all be mired in a macaronic mishmash.
      > Anyway, what you are describing takes me back to my teenage years. When I came back from my first forays to France it took me a couple of days to mentally readjust, and I daresay those who are not language professionals will often be very familiar with this phenomenon. But for me it is like acquiring any reflex, e.g. getting your sea legs...first you have to put some conscious effort into it, then it comes automatically whenever you get on board, until eventually you just whistle the Sailor's Hornpipe and away you go. Nowadays I lump that kind of slow responsiveness issue in the same category as youthful ineptitude and gaucheness (oh very well, gaucherie) in general. We grow out of it with informed practice. But OK, some people don't get the practice.
      > I shall not bother quoting all the recently fashionable stuff about bilinguals having more adaptive brains as they get older. :-)
      > Jamie, you have plenty of contact with dialects and substandard English, it seems, but you adjust automatically and it does not affect your finer linguistic judgement. So the same can surely also apply to those who live abroad for extended periods...?
      > Jennifer, of course we all have our lapses when we are tired, hungry, unwell, hurried, harried or just plain darned lazy, incompetent etc. :-) But this was just as true when we were in our twenties and living elsewhere, wasn't it? Sometimes even more so?
      > Paradoxically, I find that nowadays I have to put considerable mental effort into adjusting my behaviour after reading FB comments from my old neighbourhood in Manchester. Long punctuation-free and grammar-free passages can momentarily ensnare the unwary must resist must resist omg once you accept it the dark side is with you forever no must think of the light side whistles jauntily...
      > BR
      > Melvyn
      > http://www.dailywritingtips.com/punctuation-saves-lives/
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