[lg policy] Language Log: Bilingualism is good for you =?windows-1252?Q?=97_?=but not for me, thank you.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 22 17:46:39 UTC 2011

Bilingualism is good for you — but not for me, thank you.

January 21, 2011 @ 1:33 am · Filed by Eric Baković under Language and
the media, Language attitudes

While travelling in Spain last week, I found myself waiting in the car
for a long enough period of time that I decided to see what might be
on the radio. By some cosmic coincidence, the first station I tuned to
happened to feature a discussion of language.

[ The astute reader will note a certain vagueness in my recollection
of various details below. This is because I was only half paying
attention to the radio program. My 20-month-old daughter was in the
car with me, and though she was pretty sleepy, she still demanded the
other half of my attention. ]

The program's guest (or so I surmised, since it was the person talking
over the phone) was citing some recent finding by the Real Academia
Española that some number (or percentage?) of the websites (or
webpages?) hosted in Spain is not available in (Castillian) Spanish,
instead only being available in one or more of the other languages of
various Spanish regions (Catalan, Basque, Galician, etc.) — and
presumably a smattering of other languages, including English.

The implication, of course, is that the existence of this
number/percentage of non-Spanish webpages/sites is to some degree an
undesirable or even unacceptable state of affairs. The program's host
and guest are in complete agreement about this, and enter into a
discussion of some other study that they'd heard about — apparently
conducted at some university in Spain, but mirrored by many studies
elsewhere — demonstrating that bilingualism has positive effects on
attention and memory. What they appear to be implying, of course, is
that it's a particular shame that some-such number/percentage of
webpages/sites are not available in Spanish because this fails to
promote bilingualism, and bilingualism is good for you. Don't these
Catalunians / Basques / Galicians / etc. want to do what's good for

Almost as if he'd noticed that he'd basically imposed a requirement on
Catalunians / Basques / Galicians / etc. that he wasn't requiring of
Castillians like himself, the program's host further noted that he'd
made a new year's resolution to learn English. And he explained later
that he understood that learning another language is difficult, that
it requires "poniendo los codos en la mesa" — putting one's elbows on
the table, a prototypical image of a student deep in his studies. I
know this is a saying, but at this point I did have to wonder how
literally the host meant it. If he honestly thinks that the best way
to learn another language is to hit the books, he's not likely to
learn much English. And if he and his guest honestly think that making
more webpages/sites available in Spanish is going to promote
bilingualism in Spain, they're simply delusional. Making
webpages/sites available in more than one language is not a service to
(prospective) bilinguals; it's a service to different groups of
people, each of which may only speak one of those languages. People
navigate to the page/site in the language they know best — do the
program's host and guest really think that any significant number of
people want to read content in a language that they understand less,
or to read content in multiple languages just for the mind-enhancing
fun of it? [Please note the boldface, linguophilic would-be
commenters!] Please.

Besides, if promoting bilingualism is really a concern, then is the
number/percentage of webpages/sites not in Spanish really the issue? I
imagine (though of course I may be wrong) that the vast majority of
webpages/sites hosted in Spain are Spanish-only, and I doubt the
program's host and guest would find this fact undesirable (much less

January 21, 2011 @ 1:33 am · Filed by Eric Baković under Language and
the media, Language attitudes


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