Most People Are Multilingual [en]

[fr] Une clarification de ce que j'entends par "la plupart des gens sont multilingues". Multilingues au sens large.

In [a comment to my last post](, [Marie-Aude]( says I’m being a bit optimistic by stating that “most people are multilingual”. I’d like to clarify what I mean by that.

The “most people are multilingual” thing is not from me. I’ve seen it mentioned in varied settings, though I still need to find systematic studies to back it up (let me know if you have any handy).

It all depends how you define “multilingual”. If you define it in a broad sense (ie, school-level passive understanding of a language counts), then a little thinking shows it’s not that “optimistic”. Here is what would make somebody multilingual:

– immigration, of course
– learning a foreign language at school
– living in a country with different linguistic groups.

Some examples:

– in India, many people are fluent in their mother tongue, and to some extent in one of the countries official languages: Hindi or English
– in the US, think about the huge immigrant population; the whole country was built upon immigration, come to think of it; in the bus in San Francisco, I often heard more foreign languages than English
– again in the US (because the English-speaking world is seen as a big “monolingual” block), think of the increasingly important hispanic/latino population (people who will often have knowledge of both English and Spanish)
– in most European countries, people learn at least one foreign language in school — even if it’s not used, most people retain at least some passive knowledge of it; I’m not sure about Asia, Africa, Southern America, Australia: does anybody know?

So, I don’t think it’s that optimistic to say most people are multilingual. To say that most people are “perfectly multilingual”, of course, is way off the mark. But most people understand more than one language, at least to some extent.

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Multilingual Interviews [en]

[fr] Deux interviews que j'ai donnés récemment au sujet de la conférence que je donne à Copenhague sur le multilinguisme sur internet la semaine prochaine.

I was interviewed twice during the last week about the [multilingual stuff]( I’m going to be [talking about this week at reboot9](

– by [Suw Charman]( for [Conversation Hub]( [The Multilingual Web]( (video)
– by [Nicole Simon]( as part of her [reboot9 pre-conference series]( [Reboot 9: Stephanie Booth]( (audio)

Enjoy, and hope to see you at reboot!

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Teenagers and Spelling [en]

[fr] Pour moi, la dégradation constatée de l'orthographe des jeunes a principalement à voir avec le fait que leur pratique d'écriture a maintenant le plus souvent lieu dans des espaces "non normés" (c'est-à-dire en-dehors du milieu scolaire et "des adultes", où "écrire juste" est important). Les SMS font bien entendu partie de ces pratiques d'écriture, mais son caractère "court" a plutôt comme conséquence l'apparition d'abbréviations très tôt dans l'écriture des jeunes, plus que la "perte" (!) de notions grammaticales ou orthographiques.

Here’s a case of “comment or post?” where I first commented, but now am thinking that I would rather have posted. So I’m reproducing [my comment]( to danah’s post titled [dystruktshun of inglesh as we no]( (I know it’s in my [comments page]( and embedded in the sidebar of the blog, but I need to remember that many of you read this blog through RSS):

> As a French teacher, [I was asked this question]( (are blogs destroying our children’s spelling?) a couple of years back. My take on it is that compared to 15-20 years ago, most of the kids’ “writing activity” goes on in uncontrolled environments. When I was at school, if I wrote, it was usually at school. With pressure to have correct spelling, or I’d have to correct it / get a bad mark. Or I’d be writing a letter to my Grandma (better check the spelling there too).

> Today’s teen spends most of his/her writing time on IM, in e-mails or text messages, or in blogs/SN. Peer pressure to “write correctly” can’t really be said to exist.

> Text messaging has brought to them abbreviations. I remember discovering (stupefied!) that one could abbreviate words when I was in 9th grade (tjs=toujours, bcp=beaucoup). Now, kids know all these — and many more “bastard abbreviations” (jta=je t’adore) that might make our older skin crawl.

> I’d say that there are two ways in which teens’ writing today is “modified” by their writing habits:

> – peer spaces (“uncontrolled” regarding “proper writing”) => funky spelling and disregard for “grammatical rules”
> – length limitation (SMS) => abbreviations

One thing I wanted to add, which is “somewhat related”, is that historically, spelling stabilised when the printing press came into use. That explains why in French (and English too, for that matter) written spelling can be so widely different from pronunciation: the oral language has continued to shift, but our spelling has remained frozen. (If I’m saying stupid things here and you know better, let me know — but as far as I remember my linguistic courses from university this is how things happened.)

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