Tag Archives: Bilingual

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: Who is bilingual?


A bilingual speaks two languages. To what extent the speaker knows both languages may vary. One of the languages is going to be a native language. The proficiency level of the second language can range from knowing very little all the way up to having a second native language. Although technically all these speakers would be bilingual, very often the term “bilingual” is used for speakers that have a native or native-like level of language proficiency in both languages. The term multilingual is used to refer to people who speak two or more languages, being generally reserved for speakers of more than three languages.

Linguistic Links: Bilingual Benefits for Seniors

According to the Journal of Neuroscience, bilinguals are able to perform tasks at a faster rate compared to monolinguals. The study showed that this was so because bilinguals are used to switching back and forth from one language to another. As a result, older adults at assisted living communities are encouraged to learn a second language to help decrease cognitive decline. You can read about it more at the Sunrise Senior Living Blog.

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:

Linguistic Link: Bilingual Education in Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, where both Spanish and English are now co-official languages, the new school year has begun and with it comes the start of the commonwealth’s new bilingual education program. Starting yesterday, math and science in 32 different pilot schools will switch to being taught in English. Visit Hispanically Speaking News to find out why the switch is underway and why not everyone is in favor of the change.

Linguistic Link: Bilingual TV

NPR has an interesting report on the growing trend of producing bilingual Spanish/English television programs here in the US. Although they may be following in the footsteps of the successful bilingual children’s cartoon Dora the Explorer, this new trend is not just for children. Importantly, nor is it just for bilinguals, as they mention the programs are subtitled in both Spanish and English for those less dominant in one language or the other. Listen to the story and check it out for yourself.

Linguistic Links: An Ebonics Primer

With the DEA’s recent call for linguists who specialize in Ebonics, Gabriel Arana presents a basic reminder on how AAVE is not based on lexical differences alone. For instance, in terms of syntax there is a difference in expressing state of being:

(1) James happy.
(2) James be happy.

In (1), the omission of the verb ‘to be’ expresses that James is happy right now, whereas in (2), its inclusion signifies that James usually a happy person. As one commenter points out, this is the same distinction between the Spanish verbs ‘estar’ and ‘ser’, a split common in many other languages as well.

UIC TiL: Kim Potowski

This Friday, April 9th, UIC’s very own Kim Potowski will be presenting a talk entitled, “Intrafamilial dialect contact: The Spanish of MexiRicans in Chicago.”

Join us at 3 PM in 1750 University Hall (601 S. Morgan St. Chicago, IL 60607) for the talk and as usual light refreshments will be provided.

Kim Potowski (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Intrafamilial dialect contact: The Spanish of MexiRicans in Chicago

When speakers of different dialects share social space, interact frequently, and wish to gain each other’s approval or show solidarity, there exists the very strong possibility that they will adopt features from each other’s dialect. This process is known as accommodation, and when individual accommodations spread through a speech community over a long term, a common result is dialect mixing. Dialect mixing has received considerable attention in English (Trudgill 1986; Schneider 2003; Bauer 1994; Kerswill 2002) and in some parts of the Spanish-speaking world. However, there is a gap in our knowledge of Spanish dialect contact in the United States, which at approximately 30 million speakers is the fifth largest Spanish-speaking nation and the most dialectally diverse.

In addition, there is an increasingly common and particularly interesting case of Spanish dialect contact in the U.S.: What does a child’s Spanish look like when members of two different ethnolinguistic groups – a Mexican and a Puerto Rican, for example – marry and each speak their own Spanish dialect in the home? This situation, referred to as intrafamilial dialect contact, falls within Hazen’s (2002) call for research on the family as an intermediate grouping between the individual and the speech community. I will present a brief summary of general principles of dialect contact before examining studies of Spanish dialect contact in the U.S. and then focusing on cases of intrafamilial dialect contact in Chicago.

UIC TiL: Bryan Koronkiewicz & Tara Toscano

This Friday, March 19th, we’ll be having our semesterly student session of UIC Talks in Linguistics. Bryan Koronkiewicz will present a talk entitled, “Exceptional Hiatuses in Spanish: An Extension of Cabré & Prieto (2006)” and Tara Toscano will be presenting a talk entitled, “The Strandability of Prepositions in Spanish-English Code-switching”

Join us at 3 PM in 1650 University Hall (601 S. Morgan St. Chicago, IL 60607) for some talks and refreshments.

Bryan Koronkiewicz (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Exceptional Hiatuses in Spanish: An Extension of Cabré & Prieto (2006)

In Spanish phonology, the syllabification of rising sonority vocoids predicts diphthongization. Yet in various dialects, with a variety of words, speakers favor the creation of a hiatus in such a context. For example, the word *piano* can be realized by Spanish-speakers either as the expected form [‘pja.no] or alternatively as [pi.’a.no]. The work of Hualde (1999, 2002) and Colina (1999) attests that word initiality, distance to stress, and morpheme boundaries all have strong effects on the realization of these so-called exceptional hiatuses. However, more recently these effects have been reexamined by Cabré & Prieto (2006) with dissimilar results, arguing that they are not as strong.

In this talk I will continue to explore the potential explanations for exceptional hiatuses. This current study recreates and expands the work of Cabré & Prieto (2006). Continuing their approach, Peninsular Spanish-speakers are tested on their tendency toward exceptional hiatuses, examining the specific parameters that may be influential. Furthermore, Mexican-Spanish-speakers are also tested to see if the effects are similar cross-dialectally.

Tara Toscano (University of Illinois at Chicago)
The Strandability of Prepositions in Spanish-English Code-switching

I have tested the acceptability of Preposition stranding in English-Spanish code- switching contexts by having sequential bilinguals perform a sentence judgment task. The term Preposition stranding (P-stranding) refers to an instance where the object of the preposition is extracted and the preposition is not pied-piped as shown in (1):

(1) Who did John talk [PP to[ t]]?

While P-stranding is found in some languages, it does not appear in others. P-stranding is quite common in English as shown in example (1). But in Spanish there is a lack of P-stranding:

(2) *Quién habló Juan  [PP con [ t]]?
Who   spoke John        with

Code-switching allows insights into the two grammars that are otherwise opaque in monolingual utterances. I hypothesized that the language of the preposition in code-switching would determine the acceptability of P-stranding regardless of the language of the DP or NP. I explored 2 hypotheses:

1. Spanish prepositions will not allow P-stranding in a code-switching context, as in (3c) and (3d), and English prepositions will, as in (3a) and (3b).

(3) a. Quién salió John with?
b. Quién did John leave with?
c. Who did John leave con?
d. Who salió John con?

2. The language of Tense (T), or more specifically little v, will determine the acceptability of P-stranding. English T will trigger P-stranding (see (3b) and (3c)) while Spanish T will prohibit it (see (3a) and (3d)).

No conclusions can be made regarding the element or layer of the structure that sanctions P-stranding because this phenomenon occurs in the Spanish dialect of the participants.