Author Archives: BK

FAQ: Is being bilingual a cognitive burden?

Bilinguals have consistently shown to have cognitive advantages: planning, problem solving and performing mentally demanding tasks. Bilinguals also are better at ignoring distractions, staying focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another and keeping information in mind (i.e. remembering long sequences of instructions). Research also links bilingualism to a delay in the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A possible reason for these cognitive advantages is that languages are permanently activated and the speaker has to decide which language to use for every word. This causes a continuous brain workout.

FAQ: How long does it take for a child to become bilingual?

Children can become bilinguals from the beginning if they are exposed to both languages sufficiently. The good news is that children acquire languages naturally. You don’t have to teach them; just interacting with them in a language will allow them to acquire it. The bad news is that children also forget a language quickly if they are not exposed to it anymore. To be safe, you should keep using the language with your children at least until after puberty. Eventually, whatever language you chose to use with your children will become the language of your relationship. It would feel really odd to start using a different language.

FAQ: Is mixing languages bad?


Mixing languages is usually a sign of high competence in both languages. Bilinguals often do it even within a sentence (known as code-switching). This does not mean they cannot speak in just one language, or that they are not sufficiently fluent in both languages. It simply means that these speakers use their whole potential in communication, i.e. using the expression that best fits what they want to say. Some studies have found that speakers who are very fluent in both languages are the ones that mix the most.

FAQ: Do children get confused learning two languages at once?


No, children do not get confused about languages. Bilingual children speak at least two languages. Instead of confusing the two, they have to learn what language(s) they can use with each person. They start learning fairly early on (before age 2) but this can be influenced by the language situation at home. If some children go through a period in which they mix languages, this is nothing to be worried about. Eventually all bilinguals end up with at least one native language, possibly two. If parents and/or siblings use both languages in communicating with the child then the child will at first naturally assume that everybody is bilingual and that it can mix both languages when speaking with other people. It might take a little bit for the child to figure out that the daycare teacher only speaks English. But eventually it will happen (rather sooner than later). Keep in mind that no healthy grown-up bilingual mixes up languages when speaking to monolinguals.

FAQ: What is a heritage language?


A heritage language is a language learned the same way as a native language, but it is thought of as being learned in an incomplete manner. There are different degrees to which someone can be a heritage speaker. This can range from having only passive knowledge (understanding) to very advanced fluency (passive and active).

For example, a person can grow up in a house where his or her parents speak only Ukrainian, but outside the home everybody else speaks English. If the only Ukrainian input this person gets is from his or her parents then, this speaker will most likely become a heritage speaker of Ukrainian.

Linguistic Link: Chuh Kaw Go

It’s all in the vowels. So says linguist Corrine McCarthy from George Mason University. She recently spoke to WBEZ’s Curious City about the Chicago accent. But those vocalic peculiarities, as exhibited to comedic effect by an SNL sketch about Bears super fans, are only just the tip of the linguistic iceberg.

You can read (or listen to) the entire post to learn more about what other dialects are home to Chicago.

To answer the initial question, though, of where our unique accent comes from, UIC’s own Richard Cameron is quoted as saying that a likely possibility is that “the first dialect that gets [to a place] seems to win.” In our case then, it seems that that would be New Englanders in the mid-1800s.

Linguistic Links: The Ukraine, but not la Ucrania

Altering the names of places from their native language into a form that is more natural to speakers of another language is nothing new. However, Linguism, in a post reflecting on an article by the Independent, discusses different anglicizations of nations around the world. Of particular interest is when to use definite articles with particular countries, i.e. Ukraine vs. the Ukraine. Check out what they have to say on the issue or just take a glance at this map that details of the intricacies of the phenomenon in Spanish:

Publications: Babel No More

How do you become a master of multiple languages? That is the question central to Michael Erard’s new book, “Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Langauge Learners.” The New York Times describes it as “part travelogue, part science lesson, part intellectual investigation” and “an entertaining, informative survey of some of the most fascinating polyglots of our time.”

Here’s more information from the book’s website:

If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know how much time, energy, and brain power is required. Imagine a person who can pick up languages very easily. Someone who can navigate our world’s multilingual hullaballoo. Who can leap language barriers with a single bound. Who can learn without effort and remember indelibly. Such people aren’t parrots. They’re not computers. They’re language superlearners.

Michael Erard searched for these people, and when he found them — in history books and living among us — he tried to make sense of their linguistic feats and their mental powers. His book answers the age-old question, What are the upper limits of the human ability to learn, remember, and use languages?

UIC TiL: Fall 2012 Schedule

Mark your calendars and save these dates because the fall line-up for UIC Talks in Linguistics has been announced. All talks are scheduled on Fridays at 3 PM and will take place in University Hall 1750, located at 601 S. Morgan Street here in Chicago. We look forward to seeing you there for some interesting talks on a wide array of linguistic topics.

  • September 21: Masaya Yoshida, Northwestern (Psycholinguistics)
  • October 19: Kay González-Vilbazo, UIC (Code-switching)
  • November 2: Bernie Issa, UIC (SLA)
  • November 16: Craig Sailor, UCLA (Syntax)
  • November 30: Nicholas Henriksen, Michigan (Phonology)

Titles of the talks as well as abstracts will be announced closer to the dates listed for each.

Linguistic Link: Heavy ‘Medal’ Verb Debate

The competitive spirit of the Olympics is spreading even to linguistic levels. Apparently some are perturbed by the growing trend to use ‘medal’ as a verb now, as in Danell Leyva medalled in the men’s all-around, instead of saying that athletes ‘win medals’. A silly debate for sure as not only is this a very productive phenomenon in the English language (see also ‘friend’ instead of ‘add as friend’, ‘text’ instead of ‘send text message’, etc.), but even the Oxford English Dictionary has accepted it as a verb for years. Read more about it The National.