As I said, a bunch of people do genuinely believe that bilingual people are more prone to be schizophrenic, and it’s not just laymen, but professors as well. Not only is this problematic because it equates an actual mental disorder with the ability to speak two languages - thereby trivialising and shaming two different groups of people - but also because it shows how the predominantly monoglot Western world fears bilingualism.
Debrah Titone, a professor of psychology said the following in 2004:
“other than Montreal, where else in the world will you find such a critical mass of bilingual schizophrenic patients?”
Implying that an officially bilingual place would be home to more schizophrenics than any other place.
And she’s not the only one, in 2006, Aneta Pavlenko published an article in which she used interviews with bilingual people to claim that polyglot people experience a so-called metaphorical schizophrenia.
And psychologists in universities around the world are screaming for bilingual people suffering from schizophrenia to submit themselves to studies in order to ‘prove’ that bilingualism causes schizophrenia.
In 1968 Diebold claimed that bilingualism caused split personalities and five years earlier, Vildomec called bilingual people ‘morally untrustworthy’.
In 1971, R. M. Hemphill wrote about bilingualism as something causing auditory hallucinations among patients living with schizophrenia.
In 1999, a bunch of Harvard psychologists co-authored an article in which they claimed that bilingual environments would cause a child with any type of disorder to become ‘more mentally retarded’.
In 2002, the British Home Secretary addressed British Asians with the following statement; using English, rather than the native language of a British Asian family would help them ‘overcome the schizophrenia which bedevils generational relationships’.
It’s 2012 and people are still perpetuating this shit, especially when it comes to polyglot minority families - to equate what is natural to them with a mental disorder is to belittle them even more, and to do people who actually do suffer from a mental disorder a huge disfavour.
For the Gael, they think of Time and Space in a completely different manner. You have to wrap your mind around the fact that for the Gael, Time never stands still. It’s constantly in a state of flux, a moving river that is always flowing, always moving. Every event in Time has always either happened already, happening now, or will happen in the future. But Time never stands still - there are no snapshots in Gaelic. Time is always happening around you, that’s how the Gael mind works, and it’s reflected in their language and culture.
Scott Morrison, my Gaelic teacher - on how aspects of the Gaelic language work.
In other words, why Gaelic is so utterly beautiful and incredibly cool. Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. :D
Really? Doesn’t the fact this entire paragraph is in English give ample evidence that English speaking rebloggers also see time as moving? e.g. “never stands still” “state of flux” “always flowing”
A brain that didn’t see time as moving would be a dead brain….
Please stop exotifying my language and making out that Gaels somehow have weird-ass minds that have “completely different” conceptions of basic physics to other ‘normal’ human beings.
Language doesn’t determine thought, or else writing wouldn’t be so hard. If you are going to make extraordinary claims about the effects of specific tense grammars on the functions of the brain, then you need extraordinary evidence. e.g. as a first, give me some Gaelic phrases related to time that encapsulate how we think differently, then, you know, actually give me some good data that show how our psychology and neurobiology differs so extremely. Then perhaps a causal link.
Sorry for the rant. Gaelic is incredibly cool. But its incredibly cool because its a thriving language of a modern European community, not because its the forgotten patois of a curious folk living outside the normal space-time continuum.
We were discussing the usefulness of a number of select languages that were available for courses at my friend’s college, as she was requesting advice on which language class(es) she should enroll in. While typing my opinion I was suddenly struck by the fact that all the major European languages, apart from English and Spanish, were in decline. They were exceptionally useful 100 years ago, but they’re almost useless now.
German was once spoken by the upper classes of the Russian Empire, and by the Czars themselves, as well as by many ethnic Germans in Russia. Russia at the time stretching from the borders of Germany to the Pacific Ocean, including Finland and the Baltic States where German was particularly entrenched. Peter Watson attests that the intellectual community in Denmark frequently spoke in German, and even wrote in German. Hjalmar Fors attests that the Swedish academic circles even preferred to speak in German, as many of their academics were in reality German emigrés. In the Austrian Empire, from Bohemia to Romania, and from Galicia to Belgrade, every intellectual, government official, or aristocrat spoke German. The German Empire itself spoke primarily German and extended much farther East than Germany does today, while also including Alsace and Eupen in modern day France and Belgium where German was the main language. German was also once the second most spoken language in the United States, with major German language newspapers in the big cities. German was also the major language of philosophy, of chemistry, of engineering, of physics, and of mathematics. In all of these areas German has practically vanished. Being confined to its original homeland between the Rhine and the Oder.
Italian was once spoken by Italian communities in the Aegean islands, in the Ionian islands, in Crete, in Cyprus, across North Africa, in mainland Greece and the Peloponnese, in Albania, along the entire length of Dalmatia, even in Istanbul. Italian was a major language of art and culinary art. Not to mention Italian, too, was once spoken widely across the US, especially the North-East. Italian was also the primary language of Malta. These Italian speaking communities have all but disappeared. Even in Corsica Italian is dying, as it is in Nice (Nizza).
French in ages past was once the lingua franca of high society in the entire Western world. Every educated person, and especially diplomats, spoke French as a second language. It was the language of art, fashion, philosophy at one point, of literature at one point. French was THE prestige language. French speaking communities stretched from North America to the Far East. Now French is no longer widely spoken by upper classes in Europe or North America. French has been dumped by the wayside as the language of diplomacy. Though French remains spoken South of the Sahara desert, it has withered and died North of it, and in the Middle-East and Far East. French has mostly disappeared in North America, save for Quebec and other areas of Eastern Canada.
Now we come to Russian. Russian in the time of the Soviet Union was a major language of science, especially aeronautics and publications about space. Russian was spoken by all the educated classes of the Soviet Union, as well as many people in Eastern Europe, and by Mongolia. Russian has since declined everywhere outside of the current Russian Federation. Though Russian is still spoken by many people in the former Soviet Union, I’d wager that will not last long and will not be the case in a couple of generations.
Next, Polish. Polish was the great language of elites in Eastern Europe, especially in Lithuania, the Ukraine, White Russia, and Russia proper. Polish was a major literary language in Eastern Europe, and in many areas had supplanted Latin as the lingua franca. With the collapse of the Commonwealth and the rise of its neighbours, elites adopted other languages and Polish was severely cut back in all areas. It was further reduced by the expulsion of Poles from lands annexed by the Soviet Union after WWII. Now Polish is barely spoken outside of Poland itself.
Lastly we come to Greek. It is by no means a major language now, nor even was it 100 years ago, but I’m including it because Koine Greek united people from the island of Sicily to the River Indus in antiquity. Greek had been steadily supplanted by Arabic, Persian, Italian, and most recently and dramatically, by Turkish. Greek also gave way in the Balkans to Slavic languages, and is now restricted to its original homeland along the Aegean littoral and the Greek islands.
So it’s actually quite fascinating how these languages went from a position of dominance to a position of more or less international irrelevance. 100 years ago if you spoke French or German you could have talked to anybody educated in Europe. Now you’d be hard pressed. It just makes one wonder what the future of the last two great European languages will be.
Regarding French and German. Though the EU lists it 23 official languages as working languages, in practice only English, French and German are used regularly in Europe-wide politics, diplomacy and finance. It’s interesting to note that while France and Germany are considered the core EU countries, contributing the most money and generally running the show (because Britain lacks the Euro and is more isolationist), they use English as their de facto lingua franca. German is the most common mother tongue in the EU, and French is the local language in Strasbourg and Brussels, but its actually English the European elite uses the majority of the time!!! So, the French and German elite are themselves abandoning their own languages in favour of English as the ‘serious’ language of government…
Max Weinreich (via whatsthestorylike)
A quote that can never be over-used!
wow my linguistics textbook just used the most depressing sentence as an example
If I ever write a textbook I’m gonna fill it with examples taken from Harry Potter…
Last month, when I was doing research for my exam on the history of the English language, I stumbled across some fascinating figures provided by the Oxford English Dictionary on the history of certain words and authors, and I thought I’d share them with you now.
In a list of their top 1000 sources for words and definitions, the most prestigious statistic is perhaps how often an author or publication is cited as being the first known instance of any given word. This is what you look for when you want to know how long a word has been around, and who was the first to use it - at least in print. At the bottom of the list is an unfamiliar name with just one citation, while the top 10 is led by Chaucer with 2009.
*The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, a scientific journal started in the 17th century
At first glance, this would seem to crown Chaucer as the most creative speaker of English in its history, but there are some caveats to these numbers which become more important the further back in time we go, and Chaucer has been dead for a long time. The problem is that physical evidence for our language’s history is tied to the history of writing, and that is a seriously limiting factor in times before the ubiquity of the printing press and the internet. Although Chaucer certainly was inventive, often taking unprecedented words from French and ‘Englishing’ them, there’s no way of telling how many were originally his, and how many were spoken by people before him who just didn’t happen to leave them in any written works that have survived.
In second place, it’s not surprising that there should be a scientific journal - in this case, the longest-running scientific journal in English, the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. During the Enlightenment, with the establishment of science as a specialised endeavour with a concrete method developed by Francis Bacon among others, there came a need for an ever-increasing technical vocabulary as new objects, substances, concepts and technologies were discovered and invented.
Next, there is something to be said about the compilation of the OED itself with the extent to which certain sources are quoted as examples of a word’s typical use (note that exemplary quotations are mostly not quotations of a word’s first use, which is often too obscure and incomprehensible to be illustrative of modern general use):
*The Encyclopaedia Britannica
To make the top 1000, you had to have at least 487 quotations in the dictionary, but The Times newspaper outstrips all others at 38,301. There’s not much we can actually learn about The Times from this fact, except that there must have been a large stack of them next to the first OED lexicographers which they turned to automatically whenever looking for a new quotation. The prominence of figures like Shakespeare may be both because of the many now-popular idioms he coined which are quoted in the dictionary, but also simply because of the aesthetic tastes of the dictionary’s compilers. Shakespeare certainly furnished our vocabularies with many quotable sayings, but nowhere near 30,000.
Finally, perhaps a quirkier mark of inventiveness is the number of times a source features as the first evidence of a particular sense of a word. For words with just one definition, the sense is the definition. However, many words have more than one definition, and each of those is a separate sense. Thus, an instance of a first sense is not necessarily when the word first appeared - it could instead be the word acquiring a new meaning for the first time (for example, ‘print’ meaning ‘leave a mark or impression’ is the older, first sense, while ‘print’ meaning ‘use a machine of some kind to press ink on paper’ is a second sense that came later). This is what happens when people verb nouns, refashion obsolete terms, or simply popularise misunderstandings.
So, taking Shakespeare at the top spot, we saw above that he was the first evidence for 1602 words, but he’s also the first evidence for 8073 senses. Given that those 1602 words have at least 1602 senses, that means Shakespeare potentially invented new senses for 6471 already-existing words, though the caveat that stood for Chaucer stands again here. However many senses Shakespeare actually did come up with, while it takes serious creative skill to coin a new word that sticks, it takes a mixture of balls and genius to alter the meanings of words that have been established for some time. Though he is universally loved now, given today’s language prescriptivism he would possibly have been reviled as a defiler of the nation’s tongue if alive today.
Beware, though, that another cause for a pinch of salt with all these numbers is that the OED is not infallible - even in my own meagre research last month, I ante-dated one of their first-of citations with an earlier example they had not spotted, but these discrepancies are unlikely to vastly change the list.
This is a fascinating post with lost of interesting stats that tell a story about the evolution of the English language. Loved it!
Of course the early compilers of the OED read The Times and not the Manchester Guardian… :P
It’s interesting that the only scientific journal that makes it is the Philosophical Transactions. I think Peter Medawar said something along the lines of: “if every other book in western civilization other than the Philosophical Transactions were to be destroyed in an apocalyptic disaster, our core knowledge of science would not change.” He was making the point that the PT contains all of Newton’s mechanics, all of Faraday and Maxwell’s electromagnetism, Davy and Kelvin’s chemistry, and Darwin’s biology - the core basic science that we learn at school.
Anyway thanks for the great post - seriously, I learned a lot.
The First Family
The K.E. clan are the first family of linguistics. A dynasty with over thirty members, their seat is in London, England. But what have they done to merit their title? To put it bluntly, they can’t talk.
Over three generations, around half the family suffers from a disorder whose name changes from verbal dyspraxia to dysphasia depending on who’s writing the paper. The key characteristic of this disorder is that their speech sounds like gobbledegook to the rest of the family – indeed, the impairment is so severe they now rely on simple hand signals to get things done. The family was first discovered by Myrna Gopnik in 1990 and a quick glance at the family tree was enough to confirm that she was dealing with an autosomal dominant disorder caused by a mutation in just one gene. The unmutated gene would presumably code for the ability the sufferers lacked – namely, language! Journalists jumped at the news, and the language (or, even more remarkably, grammar-) gene meme dominated the popular picture of genetics for the rest of the decade.
Early research fuelled the press perception that this was the gene for language. For instance, the affected family members were shown to repeatedly fail Wug Tests. In a Wug Test the subject is given a drawing of a made-up animal and told this is a wug. Then they are given a drawing of two of these wugs and asked to complete the sentence: ‘Now there are two…’ The affected family members simply could not generalize the plural add ‘s’ rule to an unfamiliar noun like wug. Similarly, they could make no sense of sentences whose meaning depended on the rules of syntax – they were unable to answer the question: ‘The lion was killed by the tiger. Which one is dead?’ All this pointed to a specific inability to parse syntax.
Nonetheless, it was clear from just listening to the subjects that effect of the impairment was much wider than a mere grammatical deficiency. The affected family members couldn’t control the muscles in the mouth and tongue properly, making it very difficult to produce the tiny changes in tongue position that produce different phonemes. This manifested itself in the subjects struggling to repeat multisyllabic words that demanded quick sound shifts. Steven Pinker went as far as to conclude in the Language Instinct that the so-called language gene was really a gene affecting mouth and tongue muscle movements. He guessed that fine motor control of these muscles must have been a prerequisite for the evolution of vocal language.
Because the IQ Range of the sufferers overlapped with that of the unaffected family members (with one sufferer even having as high an IQ as 111!), commentators were able to claim that the disorder was independent of general intelligence – therefore it just had to be language specific and thus, as night follows day, the gene must also be language specific. Yet, when we look at the stats, the mean IQ of the unaffected group was 104, while that of the sufferers was 85 – with many of them classed as ‘mentally retarded.’ There is clearly a significant difference in IQ between the two groups! Nonetheless, perhaps the sufferers’ low scores can be blamed on poor performance in verbal reasoning caused by their language defect. Unfortunately in 1995 this explanation was proved wrong – the sufferers’ really were stupider, with low IQs in both verbal and non-verbal domains. Moreover, it was shown that the gene affected muscle control in generating facial expressions too. This gene it seemed was about far more than just language…
Oh yeah, this family. FOXP2 is a curious gene. I’m interested in the way other facets of this family’s cognitive capabilities have apparently been affected by the error in their FOXP2 or else a correlated malfunction in other genes linked to the processes herein. I also want to know for sure whether the popular idea is that FOXP2 is a speech gene or more specifically a language gene, and I am strongly suspicious that the two are not the same thing (rather that the former is a vehicle for the latter but that it is not the only such vehicle for linguistic intelligence).
I did a crude test to see if I’m right that the popular idea (misconception is probably a better word) is of FOXP2 = language gene rather than speech gene. Language gene returns 173 million results, the ten of the first ten pages all related to FOXP2. Speech gene returns to 33 million, seven of the first ten pages related to FOXP2. I think FOXP2 will probably end up being known as the language gene forever.
I suppose in the nineties it was very convenient to portray this gene as language-specific because it seemed like the perfect evidence for nativism. This was also in the runup to the Human Genome Project so ‘gene for’ stories would have dominated science reporting.
Here’s a paper (behind a paywall) but whose abstract states categorically that from a sample of 270 (presumably vocal) language impaired children, not one had the G.E. family FOXP2 mutation - so other genes or environmental effects must have caused their impairment. They had low general language scores which I imagine means they struggled with inflection, mangled word order etc. The only FOXP2 mutation induced cases of language impairment I’ve ever read about are K.E and the boy they found the gene in. All this tells us is that language (unsurprisingly) is controlled by many many genes.
Also, if FOXP2 facilitates vocal language by acting in fine motor control of the tongue etc (and from those mouse findings, I guess assisting in synpase formation to store the procedural memories embodying the different motor actions for different phonemes) then FOXP2 appears to have no role to play in sign language as I don’t think its been implicated in fine motor control of the fingers. This in itself disproves the daft idea that FOXP2 is somehow the gene for grammar.
Here’s a 2012 paper I found about how FOXp2 impairs auditory-motor learning in mice.
It’s open access. I’m gonna read after my run.
FOXP2 is a fascinating gene full stop!!!
The First Family
The K.E. clan are the first family of linguistics. A dynasty with over thirty members, their seat is in London, England. But what have they done to merit their title? To put it bluntly, they can’t talk.
Over three generations, around half the family…
Really? the larynx? that’s what you came up with when trying to find necessary additional adaptations necessary for language? Because phonition is totally a defining property of language — sign languages aren’t REAL languages. Nor is writing. Nope. of course not.
I seriously can’t take anything else in this article seriously now.
The article is about FOXP2. The affected K.E. family all suffered speech and language defects as a result of an inability to delicately control muscles in the mouth and tongue - categorically not in the fingers. There has been plenty of interesting work on the idea that sign language with syntax preceded vocal language - I think Derek Bickerton even wrote a book about it, and chimps/bonobos trained to communicate using symbols use either signs or pictures.
I used the position of the larynx as my example because its the obvious prerequisite for vocal language. Similarly, I think I agree with Pinker that the fine control of orofacial muscles that FOXP2 ‘codes for’ is also a necessary prerequisite for vocal language. They are both obviously irrelevant when it comes to sign language.
And on the issue of writing. Historically, Writing using an alphabet is a representation of vocal language. Historically, Writing using symbols like hieroglyphs is also a representation of vocal language. Do you the ancient sumerians really sat and worried about the hearing impaired minority in their population? Writing was invented 4000 years ago - its completely pointless discussing writing when dealing with the origin of both vocal and sign languges hundreds, even millions, of years ago in the past.
I take your point that the article does seem to ignore sign languages. But I think that was just what comes of discussing, FOXP2 a gene that has basically nothing to do with signing. In fact I agree - the media (and some scientists) calling FOXP2 a language gene was nothing more than an indication of their bias towards vocal language.
It’s not unthinkable that syntax developed in signing, which was then transferred to the vocal system after FOXP2 mutations and changes in anatomy opened up that particular evolutionary space. Neither is it unthinkable that the earliest language users spoke using a mixture of signs and vocalizations.
I hope that clears up your problems.
NOTE: on second thoughts, I’ve added in a few lines after the larynx comment explaining why the existence of sign languages also show that FOXP2 is not really a language gene.