September 29, 2009

On Code-Switching and Trilingual Competence

Halleluja, praise whoever needs to be praised for this one! All the money we have spent on Arabic tutors for my son is finally paying off. His sister came home today with her very first Arabic homework ever. And he is helping her! There is hope.
It is cute to see a 15 year old man-child helping a struggling first grader so seriously. He displays more patience than I do.

Which brings me to the matter of tri-lingualism. The Dutch often pride themselves for speaking so many foreign languages. Besides Dutch of course. I wonder where we got that reputation, because if you see Lebanese children in action, they’re about seven notches above the Dutch.

It is incredible to see how easily these youngsters flip between Arabic, English. Or Arabic and French. Or all three of them. Some of them may even speak Armenian on the side. And sometimes all at the same time.

We call that code-switching. In Lebanon we don’t just use code-switching between sentences, we even do it in single sentences (Intra-sentential switching.) “Kifak, ca va? Did you go to the piscine mbere7?” is a well known example.
My son had to write mbrere7 for me. Sound like ‘muberegh’ in Dutch. It seems that the ‘h’ becomes a 7 when you translate from street Arabic to English phonics.
Code-switching is currently keeping sociolinguists, psycholinguists and general linguists quite busy. How in depth these tri-linguists can communicate varies, but then again we also use a fourth language over here, our hands, which will straighten out any misconceptions that may rise during a conversation.

Right now I’m just happy I’ve got someone who can help my daughter with her Arabic homework.


Anonymous said...

I'm right now working on my dissertation in mapping people's linguisitc geography in the hopes of predicting some patterns in the movements of language (same GPS technology used to track animal populations/traffic patterns, etc)... and let me tell you, Lebanon is one of my cluster-f*cks! It is so painful to even begin to wrap some theory around Lebanon, much less Lebanese people!

Richard said...

My Armenian wife from Aleppo speaks reads and writes Arabic, as well as perfect French, and good Armenian, English, Spanish, and Italian. Other Armenians from Lebanon and Syria will also speak Turkish (learned from their grandparents).

This has always amazed me and puts to shame so many in English-speaking countries who typically speak only one language.

Liliane said...

Your blog was featured as Blog of the week in Lebanon Aggregator

Raffi said...

So true Richard, about the Armenians. Most know English/French, Arabic and Armenian very well. Most understand and speak Turkish well. Italian/Spanish are additions, but less common.

Miss Footloose said...

Sietske, how's your Friesian? Just happened to find your blog (your name, your name) and loved the language post! Your kids are lucky to get the language exposure. It's said to train the brain in many beneficial ways.

For those of you not in the know: Friesian is a language spoken in the northern province of Friesland in the Netherlands. (No, not a dialect, a true language. The bible is translated in it, so there.)

A strange language phenomenon I'm wondering about: I was born in Friesland, but grew up elsewhere in the country. However, I heard Friesian spoken around me all my life and understand it almost perfectly, yet couldn't ask for a loaf of bread if I were starving. I never had to speak it. So I'm orally fluent and verbally completely incompetent.

I lived in Armenia for 6 years. Armenian has its own unique alphabet. Most older Armenians were educated during Soviet times and were educated in Russian, which of course uses the Cyrillic. Many now have learned English. It is amazing to see them move not only between these three languages verbally, but to see them switch writing the three different alphabets, on the same page if necessary! Such cerebral dexterity!

And you are right, the Dutch are not nearly as linguistically talented as many other people. Still, we do better than most Americans ;) PS: I'm married to one, and he's not bad . . .


Miss Footloose
Tales of the Globetrotting Life

Anonymous said...

The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.


Anonymous said...

Genial brief and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you on your information.

Anonymous said...

i easily adore all your writing way, very useful,
don't give up and keep posting since it just well worth to follow it.
impatient to view much of your web content, stunning day :)