Being Multilingual: Socialising in tongues
Linguist Madalena Cruz-Ferreira highlights the similarities between becoming multilingual and learning other forms of language, such as social media, to socialise in new ways with new groups.
Learning to interpret language takes time, energy and investment, but we can’t spend our whole lives investing: we must reap some reward, sometime. So we need to find our groups too, the ones that satisfy our socialising investments with reasonable reward.
The British anthropologist Robin Dunbar has quite a few interesting things to say about how we do this. He asks, for example, how many friends does one person need? His findings became known as Dunbar's number, reflecting the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships" – about 150, give or take a few. The book that started me off on Dunbar's work has the appealing title Grooming, gossip and the evolution of language, and is as entertaining as the title promises.
Our social groups usually start at home, among our families, and I will have much to say about uses of language in multilingual families, in coming posts. The next significant group, for most of us, must be our school(s). I wrote about schooling of multilingual children before, but I didn’t mention then how schooling in language subjects manages the learners’ multilingualism. Being multilingual appears to stand in the way of becoming multilingual the school way. In another post, I will report a few observations about this.
Madalena Cruz-Ferreira is a freelance linguist who works on debunking myths and misconceptions about multilingualism at home, in school, and in clinic. One of her books, Multilinguals are ...?, is "a breath of fresh air in a field which desperately needs ventilation" (David Crystal), and "should be required reading for those who work closely with groups and individuals who use multiple languages" (Jeff MacSwan). She is Portuguese, married to a Swede, based in Singapore, and the mother of three trilingual children. She runs two blogs, Being Multilingual, on multilingualism, and Lang101 Blog, on linguistics for starters. You can find her on Twitter.
Photo credit: JD Hancock (photo 1), moodboardphotography (photo 2).
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