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Friday, 18 February 2011


Now there's a multilingual mix if ever I saw one: a German invented composite noun to express an metaphor which exists in English and French, even if it's rendered slightly differently. In English, you immerse yourself in a language, like you do in a bath; in French you literally bathe in it: "baigner dans une langue". And that's what we are going to do next week on holiday in Allgäu, so it will be interesting to see if it has any effect on the kid's German. Although a week is very short. Might be more fun to think about how they will cope with the Bavarian accent/dialect, as they've never heard anything other than neutral German without a regional accent. I know I have my difficulties.

But actually, we're just going on skiing holiday.    

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Thanks Peppa!

Yep, believe it or not, it's thanks to Peppa Pig that I got to change identity. I've become a "Mummy", instead of, or rather as well as being "Mama", which I've been since Leonard started speaking. Now thereby in itself hangs a tail, would you believe. 

Leonard was a relatively late speaker. His sister was anything but, so I now think it probably had nothing to do with his multiple languages, especially as their patterns of starting to speak are both within the normal ranges for monolingual speakers, and I believe reflect the general gender trends of girls often speaking more and sooner than boys. Nevertheless as parents of a first child we were a little nervy about it, and decided at some point, probably entirely nonsensically, that the reason he had not yet said either "Mummy" or "Papa" was connected to the fact that the other parent NEVER used those words. Instead, OPOL oblige, Thomas would refer to me as "Mama" and I to him as "Daddy". So in our worried ruminations we came to the conclusion that he was more likely to gratify us by giving us a name if he only had two rather than four words to deal with. Of course, this was much more to do with our emotional needs as parents than anything as mundane as words and languages. But it gave rise to the decision to call ourselves exclusively "Mama" and "Papa". 

This was not without its challenges, particularly in terms of pronounciation when speaking English, because the German words use vowel sounds which are not used in English. I only realised that I had basically trained myself to use the German pronounciation in the middle of my English sentences when my monolingual English parents came to visit and had huge difficulties trying to say the same thing as Thomas and I. It mostly came out like "Momma" and "Poppa", which to me sounded like fake American accents, so doubly strange/foreign - whereas I was perfectly at home with the German sounds. (I am at least relieved they never tried out the 19th century upper class pronounciation of "Mu-maaah" and "Pu-paah" - although I think that might even amuse me to become a Victorian lady at this stage...)

But anyway, I got used to it and figured that was it. Until for Annabelle (and only for her) I recently morphed into Mummy (as in Mummy Pig), after she had just indulged in a particularly long Peppa Pig binge. I think she even asked me if she could call me Mummy, so I said yes - why not?

So is this wierd, being called one thing by one child and something else by the other one? And even more wierdly, have one using an English word in an English sentence and the other in effect mixing a German word into his otherwise exclusively English talk with me? Not really, like with many things I think I've just got used to used to it. And I still refer to myself as Mama. And that seems to be fine with everybody too.

More to the point, am I worried about the immense influence a two-dimensional (as commented on by Annabelle herself : "Peppa only moves sideways, doesn't she") cartoon pig has on my daughter's language choices and my maternal identity? Go figure.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Chronologies and linguistic EQs

It's funny how many people say there are some things they can only do in one language, whether it be talk to babies and animals, or swear (I enjoyed this article and the comments on it on Multilingual Living on the subject). I can really identify with that: to this day Thomas and I tend to speak German on the phone, for reasons that will become evident later in this post. But I have also experienced how these habits can change, sometimes unintentionally and often unnoticed through changing circumstances, but also sometimes as a result of a quite deliberate effort. Can I indulge in a bit of reminiscing and take you through some of our language chronologies to illustrate the point?

When Thomas and I met, we only spoke German. We were both living in Germany, I spoke German well enough to communicate everything I wanted to, and in any case I was there as part of my degree programme to improve my German. 

This didn't change when we both moved away from Berlin. Over the next four years, each of us lived variously in the USA, in Russia, in the UK and in Germany, but never in the same country at the same time. We spent a LOT of time on the phone, always in German (hence I believe our tendency to revert to German when communicating via a piece of plastic without being able to see each other).

After this, there was a multilingually very boring period where we both lived in Germany (not in the same town, mark you, we couldn't do anything as obvious as that...) and spoke German ALL the time to everybody.

Then things started to get interesting again. Between us we gradually moved to the French-speaking area where we live now (and, Reader, I married him!) and both eventually took up work where we were mostly speaking English. Despite our emotional attachment having developed and become fully fledged in German, we gradually started to mix more and more English into our conversations without ever really noticing (except of course on the phone). And then the children came along, and it seemed fairly obvious to us to decide on the one-parent-one-language (OPOL) strategy.

All of a sudden, two things happened: firstly it actually took me some effort to make myself speak ONLY English with the children, so used was I to mixing languages in my home environment. And secondly, a significant proportion of my home communication was now taking place in English, as I inevitably spent more time with the babies than I did with Thomas (I was working part-time, so spending weekday time with them but without him). Then I got lazy: Thomas speaks fluent English, right, and is telling me stuff from his English-speaking work environment in English (why would he translate it for me???), so I more or less stopped speaking German to him (except, of course, on the phone!).

So much for it coming naturally to speak to babies in your mother tongue, and it being impossible to change the linguistic EQ of the language you fell in love in.

PS In a similar vein, you might like the interview with bilingualism researcher and adept Prof. Jean-Marc Dewaele, also on Multilingual Living. You might even want to take his survey on personality and code-switching. I did, and as with many such surveys, found it quite difficult to boil down my opinions to a yes-no answer on a subject I have rather more sophisticated ideas about. But definitely worth doing to support research in a very interesting area.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

This month's bilingual blogging carnival

This is taking place on the "Speaking in tongues" blog this month, so go take a look. What is a blogging carnival? It's basically a collection of entries from different blogs made available on a host blog. Think of it like a chat show, where the host showcases the guests and what they do. So it's a good way of getting to know other blogs you might not yet have found or visited.
I'm off to have a read now. Hope you enjoy it too. 
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