LINGUIST List 6.1686

Fri Dec 1 1995

Sum: 2 I-languages

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  1. "Crookston, Ian [HSC]", Sum: 2 I-languages

Message 1: Sum: 2 I-languages

Date: Thu, 30 Nov 1995 18:09:00 Sum: 2 I-languages
From: "Crookston, Ian [HSC]" <I.Crookstonlmu.ac.uk>
Subject: Sum: 2 I-languages



Some weeks ago I posted a query on the question of whether a bilingual
could be said to have two I-languages. The following people replied:

Richard Coates
Susanne Dopke
Susan Ervin-Tripp
Anthea Fraser Gupta
Patrick Griffiths
Nancy Hildebrandt
Bill King
Tove Klausen
Chao-Chih Liao
Juergen M. Meisel
Madeline Maxwell
Michael Newman
Harold Ormsby
Pius ten Hacken

Many thanks to all of you. I hope this summary does justice to your
helpful efforts. I am still in discussion with one respondent, but
anyone who was waiting for a summary has surely waited long enough.

First of all, I apologise to those who had trouble getting through and
can only offer extra thanks to those who persevered. My address seems
to have been changed, without my knowledge, approximately on the day I
sent the query. Any further correspondence should be addressed to
"i.crookstonlmu.ac.uk".

I must not of course quote the original query in full, but the heart
of it was the following:

"If you took an adult bilingual, and attempted to analyse their
grammar, using their utterances and acceptability intuitions, on the
assumption that there was one grammar underlying all their output,
where would that assumption break down?"

I thought this was a simple question to which a suitably qualified
expert would be able to give a snap answer. I thought I was saying
something like: "Give me an example of a sentence which you have
reason to think is ill-formed for a bilingual such as a British
Panjabi, whose ill-formedness cannot be accounted for on the
assumption of a single I-language". Or: "give me the crucial
counterevidence which is forcing researchers away from the simple
hypothesis".

I got two snap answers. One respondent said "the best way to
understand bilinguals is to become one". This is very precisely true,
since if I had direct access to a bilingual's native speaker
intuitions I would soon be able to find my answer. However as the
question needs to be answered separately for simultaneous bilinguals
and other kinds the advice arrives a little late. And Suzanne Dopke
said "the operation of the two languages of a bilingual in the brain
is far from settled", which will certainly find its way into my
lectures.

Juergen Meisel and Anthea Gupta both said that, to use my wording
above, a piece of crucial counterevidence is the fact that bilinguals
can avoid language mixing for monolingual listeners. This is what
students have said when I have tried to suggest that a bilingual is
not necessarily two monolinguals bolted together. But we can all
suppress parts of our linguistic repertoire to accommodate a listener
(eg, suppressing bookish vocabulary to talk to students): this seems
to me to be merely a difference of degree between the monolingual and
the bilingual.

Several of the replies suggested further reading, often Romaine's
_Bilingualism_. The first edition of this does not tell me precisely
the answer to my query, but I will do my best to consult the second,
and follow up at least some of the other suggestions.

One of the further reading suggestions was Poplack's work from the
80's. My acquaintance with this has led me to put it into the same
category as the others: it seems to start from the assumption of what
we would now call two I-languages, rather than first giving the
crucial counterevidence to the simpler hypothesis.

Many replies broadened the question in one way or another. Several
reminded me that a similar question arises with
second-language-learners; another that the "forgetting" of one
language by a bilingual is a further dimension to the issue; one that
the differential loss of languages in brain damage is another form of
evidence. In the last case, I have always understood that research is
severely constricted by the impossibility of accurately establishing
pre-morbid language use patterns.

Suzanne Dopke startled me by averring that Meisel's research
"strengthens the UG position" in general. It is surely somewhat more
plausible a priori to say that we have a genetically-specified UG
which will develop into a single I-language regardless of the input;
rather than, as Meisel says, that there is a genetically-specified UG
which can be duplicated in special environmental conditions. Isn't it?
We have a genetically-specified liver, and there are surely no known
environmental conditions which will cause it to be duplicated.

So I hope those who tried to help will forgive me when I say I feel
barely any forrarder for their much-appreciated efforts. No expert
seems to be able to give me the answer to what I thought was a simple
question. I am certainly open to continued discussion: perhaps now is
the time to try to explain to an inexpert polytechnic lecturer _why_
the question cannot be answered?

Thanks again

Ian Crookston
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