Monday, August 28, 2006
THE DILEMMAS OF BILINGUALISM
As a small child, roughly 4, I remember Marcel becoming very distressed one day in a toyshop. He had seen a baseball-type bat in the window and wanted to buy it with some money he had saved. I said to him to go and ask the shop assistant to take it out of the window. He liked to talk to shop assistants and felt grown-up when I let him, but this time he collapsed in a heap of sobs. I couldn't understand his distress but he tried to explain to me that English wasn't specific enough and that if he asked for a bat, the woman wouldn't know if he wanted sports equipment or a nocturnal animal. It was inconceivable to his bilingual brain that a monolingual English speaker could deal with this ambiguity and still give him the correct thing. There was no convincing him that using the simple word bat would suffice. He went into a large description of the type of bat he meant. Sweet!
I guess he was 6 or even 7 before he realized that language differences like this were common and unproblematic.