One size fits all!

Roger Andersen IBS4RWA at MVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU
Tue Mar 12 03:55:00 UTC 1996

On the discussion of monolinguals vs bilinguals: One size fits all. ... Not!

(Since I am switching from one email system (ibs4rwa at to
another (rogerand at but subscribed with the old one, I am
forwarding this message so I can get it on the FUNKNET. Sorry about the
roundabout way.)

I have two very different commentaries on this discussion, one as someone
who has researched one particular multilingual society for two decades and
the other as someone who has been functionally multilingual for these two
decades and, since the age of about 21, bilingual, but monolingual the first
two decades of my life.  Both are anecdotal.

I think most of the discussion is trying to come up with one answer for all
potential questions when, in reality, we really do not have even one
explicit question that needs to be answered. The original question
introduced vicariously by Payne is, "What makes monolinguals' Spanish "more
Spanish" than bilinguals'?"  This presupposes an affirmative answer to the
question, "Is a monolingual Spanish speaker's Spanish "more Spanish" than a
bilingual speaker?" and also assumes all monolinguals are identical and all
bilinguals are identical.  The original asker of the question qualified her
inquiry with "at least in phonology", but the discussion seems to deal with
"grammar" as an autonomous entity.  What is lacking is a *real* question for
which the choice of speakers is important.

When I was preparing for my dissertation field work in 1972 -- a study of
sociolinguistic variation in the use of spoken Papiamentu in natural
discourse in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, with a focus on hispanization of
the creole language -- I was aided considerably by Dell Hymes' notion that
we should study (to paraphrase) who says what to whom, when, where, for what
purposes, with what people present, and under what circumstances and **what
this means to the participants**.  (Hymes' insight came via Joel Sherzer,
Gillian Sankoff, David DeCamp, and others whose contribution I've probably

        I found the pursuit of an answer to this question, for Curacao, an
incredibly difficult undertaking, but fortunately one that has kept drawing
me back to Curacao for the past two decades with very satisfying results: I
am now much closer to understanding the original question than I was in
1972!  (The answer? ... Well, can you check back in six to nine months?)

        The current (and prior) native inhabitants of Curacao (and sister islands
of Aruba and Bonaire, where Papiamentu is also the native language) had the
good fortune (value judgement!) of being taken over in the mid 1600 by the
Dutch (from the Spanish) and the possibly equally good fortune of   having
Spanish priests from the mainland visit the island regularly to teach
literacy in Papiamentu to the least fortunate residents (primarily slaves
and their descendants). Dutch and Spanish have both had a strong presence
and high prestige on the islands ever since. Social and economical
embetterment is associated with one or the other or both languages. And
since Dutch is hardly a language of wider communication (LWC), the
language-rich (English, Spanish, French) curriculum of the Dutch educational
system, carried intact to the Netherlands Antilles, has benefited at least
the most fortunate of residents of these three islands (and similarly has
had powerful consequences for the large number of less fortunate residents,
who leave school at an early age because of, among other reasons, lack of
adequate knowledge of Dutch to perform well in school).  The most fortunate
speak and read (and many write) Dutch, Spanish, English (and less commonly
French, German, Latin and Greek).  Nevertheless Papiamentu is clearly
**the** language spoken and needed in daily life and many native speakers
have inadequate knowledge of Dutch (or any other language).  Many Dutch
residents who work in Curacao find it necessary to learn Papiamentu.

        In a place like Curacao, to limit linguistic research to "pure"
monolinguals, IF they can be found (!) accomplishes very little, unless the
purpose is to study the linguistic repertoire of the most isolated, the
least educated, and the least fortunate residents of the island. So we are
back to asking, "What is the question for which we need an answer?"

        As I write this, I am worrying about getting behind on writing a long and
supposedly comprehensive 'state of the art' paper I was asked to write on
Papiamentu.  In Spanish, which is not my native language, but a language I
have published (three, now on the fourth) articles in and have lectured in.
As I suffer through this task, I work with my large database on natural
spoken Papiamentu discourse, read and reread works published in Papiamentu,
English, Spanish, and French, worry about the many studies published in
Dutch that I can work with only with great effort, and write in Spanish
worrying whether I have succeeded in communicating what I really intended.

        And I have  a feeling that *I* am not the kind of multilingual that the
original asker of the question had in mind. No one has asked me to be a
native English informant yet, but probably not because I am claiming to be
multilingual.  And no one in their right mind would *ever* want to use me as
an informant for French, Portuguese, Spanish, Papiamentu, or any other
language.  I am "individually" multilingual, whereas I assume that the
question about whether we can trust bilinguals has to do with "socially"
bilingual individuals in their "native" habitat or "conveniency sample
informants" who happen to live in the U.S. and speak English (all discussion
has been so far, I believe, by native speakers of English).

        In my research on Papiamentu I *must* keep track of the  notion of "who is
saying what to whom, when, where, with what purpose, etc. ..."  Even
monolingual Papiamentu speakers live and function within an intricate
bilingual/multilingual context.  One person's "good" Papiamentu is another
person's "bad" Papiamentu.  ("Good" is typically associated with being able
to replace Dutch vocabulary, pervasive in educated speakers from a Dutch
education, with Spanish equivalents. But in certain contexts, speaking
*this* kind of "good" Papiamentu is definitely "bad".  And most Papiamentu
speakers know this and behave accordingly.

        Nevertheless, there are a good number of "native" speakers of Papiamentu
whose Papiamentu is easily recognized by all other native Papiamentu
speakers as being the Papiamentu of "yu'i Korsou" (native Curacaons) who
have lived many years in Holland.  They do *not* really speak "pure" native
Papiamentu, yet they were born and raised initially in Curacao.  For someone
who studies grammar by eliciting sentences from native speakers, such
speakers are clearly the wrong ones!  But I don't elicit sentences; I try to
study the way people naturally use language in their daily lives in a
varietyof different situations and settings.

        So we are back to "What's the question?"

        Probably the most complete and comprehensive "grammars" of Papiamentu (with
the title "El Papiamento") was published in Spanish in 1928 by Rodolfo Lenz
, a German linguist living in Chile. It is based on elicitation from *one*
informant, a cook, on a ship from Chile to Germany.  It has its flaws
(pointed out by a native Papiamentu writer, Antoine Maduro), but is
otherwise an excellent example of what a good researcher can do with the
"right" native speaker informant. But this is not 1928. and Lenz asked a
very different set of questions (to generate his grammar) than I am asking.(
Lenz' informant was probably to some extent "bilingual". Many Papiamentu
speakers from these islands made a living on the sea and learned whatever
mode of communication was necessary for the situation. )

I lived the first 18 years of my life as a monolingual English speaker in a
multiethnic and multilingual neighborhood where languages other than English
were restricted to family. My father understood some Danish but was
otherwise a monolingual English speaker. My grandparents, who lived next
door, spoke Danish frequently among themselves and with visitors. I know no
Danish. I began learning Spanish around the age of 20, in college classes
and a summer in Mexico. From the age of 22 until the age of 37 I lived in
Puerto Rico and used only Spanish in my daily life except when speaking to
native speakers of English (and even sometimes using Spanish with such soul
brothers/sisters).  For certain periods of time I left Puerto Rico to study
in the U.S. Even in the U.S. most of my friends were Spanish speakers (or
Portuguese speakers) and I again only used English when appropriate.  I met
my  wife, who is Puerto Rican after living several years in Puerto Rico and
calling it "home". (I never really expected to become an immigrant to Los
Angeles!)  We have lived in Los Angeles for a long time and visit Puerto
Rico at least once a year (with two daughters who are 'bilingual' but simply
don't *look* Hispanic, so are not regarded as "really" bilingual!).
Although I still call Puerto Rico my "home", from my wife's perspective I am
and always will be an outsider who took her away from her "home".  When I
talk about Puerto Rico as "MY" Puerto Rico, she quickly points out that I
wasn't born in Puerto Rico, my parents were not Puerto Rican, and I don't
have the 'mancha del platano" and am simply an American who happened to live
in Puerto Rico a long time. Puerto Rico is hers; the U.S. is mine.  My
daughters (in their early 20s) have the same attitude, except they can call
themselves Puerto Rican and I can't!  For Spanish, my wife would be the
problematic bilingual Spanish informant. My daughters would be more
problematic, having been educated primarily in the U.S.

        This is my answer to one question I posed earlier: Are all monolinguals
alike? Are all bilinguals identical?  Clearly not. My two daughters are very
different from each other as bilnguals. And my wife and I are very different
sorts of "bilinguals".  In fact, while my wife might be accepted as
'bilingual', most people would treat me as an American who happens to know
Spanish well. Clearly not 'bilingual'. That is, not born into a bilingual
social environment.

        But "bilingual" vs "monolingual" is just the tip of the iceberg.  Just to
bring in one other variable, what about differences in metalinguistic and
metacognitive awareness?  I think any one who has done field work and who
speaks well the language they study know how widely "native" speakers vary
in the degree to which you can trust their intuitions.  What about language
directed to the outsider-linguist-anthropologist vs language directed to
insiders? Whether the speakers are monolingual or bilingual, they may use
very different linguistic repertoires in the two situations. (Again, who is
speaking to whom for what purpose ....) And this certainly does not exhaust
the important variables.

        And for the question that involves extensive crosslinguistic comparison,
check out Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca 1994!  The role of bilinguals and
multilinguals in my research on one population is very different from the
role of bilinguals used by people who write grammars, which many of us
depend on to address important questions.

        And I will *not* get into the complexity of speaking 'Quechua' in areas
throughout the Andes where the invaders' language, Spanish, has a very
different status depending on many different variables.  To know Quechua
involves Spanish even if you are monolingual in Quechua, just as to know
Papiamentu involves Spanish and Dutch, even if you are monolingual in
Papiamentu.  But this is just the beginning.

No. One size does *not* fit all!

And now I know I will regret having given up my spectator status in this
debate!  At least I have an excuse for procrastinating further as I write a
couple of more paragraphs in Spanish, using exerpts in Papiamentu with
Spanish glosses, to discuss an issue involving a book written in French, an
article in English, and others in Papiamentu and Dutch.  I certainly don't
trust bilinguals and multilinguals. I know better. Give me a good
monolingual any day. (Field note 265a: writer has tongue in cheek!)

Roger W. Andersen, Applied Linguistics, 3300 Rolfe, UCLA
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1531
Tel: (310) 206-1325 Fax (310) 206-4118
email address: rogerand at

"Do few things and do them well." St. Francis of Assisi

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