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Subject: semi-lingualism
Question:
From: Christine Colenutt

Hello. I am a speech/language pathologist by trade but an undergrad of
linguistics and forever a linguist at heart!

I recently ran into an interesting theory in a book entitled
''Understanding Language Disorders: The Impact on Learning''. A quote by
D. Duncan introduced the notion of ''semi-lingualism'', a state of poor
language proficiency in neither of two languages, seemingly caused by
using/being exposed to a second language before a child is a competent
language user of his/her first (family) language. I am VERY interested
in this becuase I work in northern Saskatchewan, Canada with Native
children who are presenting with horrific language skills, sometimes in
English sometimes in their native language, and this seems to make sense
to me. The picture is clouded even more when the home language is
usually Cree or Dene, the school is largely English, and then there are
some HeadStart programs for ages 3+ (English and Cree or Dene), then
some Cree or Dene immersion programs... you see it starts to become one
big whirling dervish of mixing languages for these poor young children!!
I just wanted an expert opinion on semi-lingualism, or a lead on where
I can find out more about this kind of dual language exposure and its
impact on language learning. Ultimately I would like to make
recommendations to the schools in these communities, for the sake of
better language skills, literacy and academic achievement for the kids.

Sorry it's so long, but thank you for reading!!
Christine




Reply:
Hi Christine,
I suspect that you have already received a number of answers to
your question on semilingualism. I just want to add a few further comments.
The term was actually first used by a Swedish researcher by the name of
Hansegard (1975) and taken up again by T. Skutnabb-Kangas in her 1981 book
Bilingualism or not: The education of minorities. Clevedon: Multilingual
Matters. I warmly recommend the book, which should certainly be available
at the U. of A. or the U. of Calgary. In her book, S-K describes
semilingualism in terms of deficits in six language competences:
1. size of vocabulary
2. correctness of language
3. unconscious processing of language (automatic use of language)
4. language creation (neologization)
5. master of language functions (such as emotive or cognitive language
functions)
6. meanings and imagery.
As you well understood, semilingualism is seen as a quantitative and
qualitative deficiency in both languages when compared to monolinguals..
Semilinguals usually exhibit the following deficiencies in both their
languages: small vocabulary and incorrect grammar, they consciously think
about language production (it is not automatic), they are stilted and
uncreative in the use of either language and they find it difficult to
think and express their emotions in either language.
The notion of semilingualism (also called double semilingualism) has been
criticized by a number of specialists....mainly because it has disparaging
and belittling overtones. It can therefore be used as a negative label
which implies a certain level of underachievement. Second, specifically in
the case of the Cree or Dene, the deficiency of either language does not
necessarily come from the fact of being bilingual but from the economic,
political and social conditionss that pertain. As C. Baker says in his book
on bilingualism (Foundation of bilingual education, 2nd ed. 1997,
Multilingual Matters, which I also strongly recommend!), the problem with
the notion of semilingualism is that it locates the origin of the problem
in the internal, individual possession of bilingualism, rather than in the
external, societal factors that co-exist with semibilingualism. Another
problem with the notion is that oftenm the educational tests that are often
used to measure language proficiency may be insensitive to the qualitative
aspects of languages. They often measure small, often unrepresentative,
samples of a person's total language behavior. Also, as is now being
pointed out more and more, it is unfair to compare bilinguals to
monolinguals. Bilinguals, because they possess two languages are by
definition DIFFERENT from monolinguals and unfortunately, it has always
been the latter that have been considered as "normal". In actual fact,
there are more bilingual individuals in the world than monolinguals and we
must stop comparing the two. Bilingual competence must be compared to other
bilingual competences, not to monolingual ones! Finally, there is currently
a debate or dispute regarding how one is to determine who is or is not a
semilingual. What is the cut-off point for who is or who is not
semilingual? Doesn't it become somewhat arbitrary where ever the line is
drawn? What is the objective empirical evidence to categorize a given
person as being or not being semilingual?
I've given you lots to think about, I'm sure....but do try to get hold of
the S-K book!
Hope this helps.
At 22:05 06-02-01 +0000,
>
>From: Christine Colenutt
>
>Hello. I am a speech/language pathologist by trade but an undergrad of
>linguistics and forever a linguist at heart!
>
>I recently ran into an interesting theory in a book entitled
>"Understanding Language Disorders: The Impact on Learning". A quote by
>D. Duncan introduced the notion of "semi-lingualism", a state of poor
>language proficiency in neither of two languages, seemingly caused by
>using/being exposed to a second language before a child is a competent
>language user of his/her first (family) language. I am VERY interested
>in this becuase I work in northern Saskatchewan, Canada with Native
>children who are presenting with horrific language skills, sometimes in
>English sometimes in their native language, and this seems to make sense
>to me. The picture is clouded even more when the home language is
>usually Cree or Dene, the school is largely English, and then there are
>some HeadStart programs for ages 3+ (English and Cree or Dene), then
>some Cree or Dene immersion programs... you see it starts to become one
>big whirling dervish of mixing languages for these poor young children!!
> I just wanted an expert opinion on semi-lingualism, or a lead on where
>I can find out more about this kind of dual language exposure and its
>impact on language learning. Ultimately I would like to make
>recommendations to the schools in these communities, for the sake of
>better language skills, literacy and academic achievement for the kids.
>
>Sorry it's so long, but thank you for reading!!
>Christine

Prof. Robert A. Papen, Ph.D.
D�partement de linguistique et de didactique des langues
Universit� du Qu�bec � Montr�al, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre-ville
Montr�al, Qc H3C 3P8 Canada
T�l. (514) 987-3000, poste 8416; t�l�copie (514) 987-4652
Site web de l'ACLA/ CAAL web site: http://www.aclacaal.org





Reply From: Robert Papen     click here to access email
Date: Feb-08-2001
Other Replies:
  1. Re: semi-lingualism   Deborah Ruuskanen    (Feb-14-2001)
  2. Re: semi-lingualism   Alain =?iso-8859-1?Q?Th=E9riault?=    (Feb-06-2001)
  3. Re: semi-lingualism   James L. Fidelholtz    (Feb-06-2001)
  4. Re: semi-lingualism   Susan Fischer    (Feb-07-2001)

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