Multilingual tongues

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Feb 23 20:13:13 UTC 2009

Multilingual tongues
KEVIN MAERTEN - Staff Writer
   Interactions among people are measured through words and speech -
in the way that individuals express their knowledge, love and interest
through language. Studying languages offers the possibility to gain a
new sense of existence and realize what life is like in the far
corners of the earth.

   "For me, each language constitutes a way of looking at the world,"
said Dr. Maureen Jameson, chair of the Department of Romance Languages
and Literatures. "There is nothing intrinsically better or worse about
the way any given language structures experience, but if you only know
your own language, you're missing out on an enormous range of

   The same broadening power of language found throughout history is
still relevant in the 21st century. Language is more than just
completing mandatory courses in high school and college; it's a
formative and expansive learning process.

   "It seems regrettable to me that some students enroll in languages
at the last possible moment only in order to check off a box on the
DARS report, and have decided in advance that the language is
'useless,' " Jameson said.

   Deciding to study a foreign language during their college career is
something many students find to be a daunting task. However, it's
possible to make the experience a positive and advantageous one.

   "Choose a country where, historically, there were great advances
made in your area of interest and where there are libraries and
archives to explore," Jameson said.

   The language learning process allows students to mature mentally,
according to Jameson. Many students of foreign languages note
expanding their knowledge of the world as a motivation for their

   "I don't think it is possible to truly study a language without
gaining an appreciation for the culture," said Claire McTaggart, a
junior electrical engineering major. "How you speak and portray
yourself in any language is linked to culture."

   Learning what to say in another language allows students to learn
how individuals in different parts of the world communicate and
respond differently, according to McTaggart. Speaking a foreign
language also opens doors in allowing students to interact with people
they may otherwise not be able to.

   Angelo Lomeo, a sophomore history major, used his knowledge of
Spanish when traveling to Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries.
Lomeo's dedication to Spanish has led him to study Italian this
semester, which is his native heritage.

   According to Liann Burgos, a junior technical theatre major, a
positive aspect of language is the knowledge of a different culture
and language; the only negative is the work in having to learn it.

   "Language is not something that can be learned by rote; to gain any
fluency in a language, you have to want to take the time to learn it
and practice using it," McTaggart said. "This is unlikely to occur
when forced to memorize and regurgitate lists of words, as is often
the case in classroom settings in middle and high schools."

   An unfortunate consequence that can arise out of the merging of
different languages is intolerance, expressed by some students, and
the targeting of those who have come from other countries.

   "It kills me to hear our own international students criticized for
speaking their native languages on the intercampus shuttle or in the
cafeteria because they are in America, and they should speak English,"
Jameson said. "That's lunacy, and very offensive."

   Whether students are young or old when they learn a language, it's
always an evolving process, according to Jameson. The knowledge of
language advances careers and helps students stand out in the
exceedingly competitive job markets of today.

   "Enlightened employers will look favorably on applicants who have
invested time and effort learning how to communicate," Jameson said.

   UB is a diverse microcosm of ethnicities and languages, each of
which require the utmost respect. Learning beyond native tongues gives
students not only the opportunity to expand their knowledge of
communication, but also the world beyond their front door.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at


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