HOW DARE YOU SPEAK MY LANGUAGE!

Geoff Pullum has a Lingua Franca piece about an odd phenomenon he’s run across: people who get offended if you try to converse in their own language. Only two examples, mind you—an English-speaking American, fluent in German, whose German university colleagues don’t want him to speak German with them and a native speaker of English who “has learned Korean really well,” but encounters hostility when he uses it to talk to students and colleagues, who “seem to think it is distasteful that he should do such a thing”—but he’s not claiming it’s representative, just surprising:

I had of course seen this kind of reluctance to let outsiders join the speech community with languages of very low prestige, for instance creole languages. Efforts at learning Jamaican Creole are typically met with anger rather than pleasure in Jamaica: Jamaicans, especially if middle-class or college-educated, want to be regarded as English speakers. They tend to despise the creole that is in fact the primary medium of oral communication across the country.
But discouragement from learning prestigious national languages like Berlin German and Seoul Korean? It amazed me.

The comment thread is worth reading as well.

Comments

  1. I thought a particularly interesting case mentioned in the comments was the American employees of Japanese companies: it’s as much as their job’s worth to reveal their knowledge of Japanese, because their bosses use it as a secret code. I remember reading, similarly, that many people in North Wales don’t check the “I understand Welsh” box on census forms and the like, for fear that they will start to receive forms written in incomprehensible bureaucratic Welsh (they are bad enough in English).

  2. I grew up speaking Swedish as my primary language. After moving to the UK at a young age, however, my Swedish atrophied. Now, I’ve still got a very good command, just nothing compared to the level of my English. Whenever I visit Stockholm I have to hide the fact that I speak English. As soon as someone knows, usually people under the age of 30 or so, they’ll immediately switch to English. Sometimes it’s to practise their own skills and at other times it’s just to show off. Young Swedes, even moderately educated ones, are quite proficient in English. It’s probably why I picked up English so quickly. As a child in Sweden everything was in English – cartoons, series, films, music. Popular culture is still saturated with American-English imports, and unlike the Germans they use subtitles instead of dubbing.
    When I went to visit some old mates at Uppsala University, I found that there were quite a lot of international students, some there for a year some for longer, but hardly any of them could speak Swedish to a respectable degree. The lingua franca on campus was English for international students. Now, if English proficiency amongst young people in Sweden was lower, then I think the international students would actually manage to learn some Swedish.
    I suppose the language policy is enviable in a way. English instruction is really rigorous. The UK by comparison is a joke. If a person scores a top grade in their A-level French/Spanish exams at the end of high school, then they have a decent command of the language. This is probably the same standard some of my friends were at in Sweden by the age of 12/13.

  3. Is it an odd phenomenon? I think most people trying to learn Japanese have run into the occasional Japanese who simply refuses to speak Japanese to foreigners. I have heard many Koreans have a similar attitude.
    To tell the truth, as an American with decent French and fluent Italian I tend to feel very offended if French people or Italians try to speak to me in English, if I am in France or Italy where until recently people used to have the good sense to avoid English. I realize it’s an immature reaction, and do my best to cover it up, but it does feel insulting. Not because it is a criticism of my language skills so much as it is clearly a veiled criticism of my fashion sense – Italians can spot foreigners and their silly clothes from blocks away.

  4. J. W. Brewer says:

    1. When I spent the summer in West Germany (as it then was) as a teenager way back in ’82, many German teens I met were more interested in the opportunity to interact in English with a native speaker than in accomodating my German. Plus, their school-learned English was typically already much better than my school-learned German, so there was a conflict between maximizing efficiency and enhancing my language skills. But storekeepers etc. were less likely to respond to my German with English than was the case when I was in Vienna 17 years later. How much the change had to do with the (probably substantial) deterioration in my German fluency versus improvement in the average English fluency of local storekeepers is difficult to say. (But frankly, I was relieved when they switched to English and hoped that my pro forma attempt to start in German was interpreted as politeness before we both switched over to efficiency-maximization.)
    2. As was sort of suggested by several commenters in the thread over there, not wanting outsiders to even try to speak your language (thus keeping them outside) can be just as consistent with a chauvinistic belief in the superiority and awesomeness of your own ethnic group as expecting outsiders to take the initiative to learn your language so you don’t have to bother learning theirs. Which way the chauvinistic impulse manifests itself may be a contingent result of local circumstances.

  5. Unfortunately anecdotes such as this do not factor in what I suspect plays a major role: poor command of the foreign language.
    Having taught French in the United States and Anglo-Canada, I can assure you that I disliked speaking French with any of the students. The problem was that their command of the language was so poor, and every aspect of their “French” so anglicized, that I had to mentally “back-translate” their utterances to (try to) make sense of what they were saying. Quite exhausting, and indeed their “French” would have been largely incomprehensible to a native speaker who was not closely acquainted with spoken English. Speaking English was much easier, and insured that no gross misunderstandings would occur.
    English monolingualism being so deeply entrenched, in North America especially, all too many anglophones with *some* command of a foreign language call themselves “fluent” when in fact their “command” of the target language is grossly inadequate.
    I remember well a former departmental colleague, an American who learned French as an adult (and could pass for an educated native speaker), who told me once that she never hired native speakers of English as Research Assistants: she needed students with a good reading knowledge of English and at least two other European languages. She took it for granted that native anglophone students simply did not know any foreign language well enough for her to trust them to read academic writings in one, let alone two foreign languages. In fact, she also claimed that their ability to read academic prose in English was often dubious. My own experiences in the classroom gave me little reason to doubt either claim.
    Of course, her own command of French was superb, and therefore she knew exactly how poor her students’ (and most colleagues’) French was. Most (monolingual) academics have no idea. At another University I worked at a history professor approached me. He wanted to know whether any of the students in the French program could be hired to read some French academic prose and then summarize the contents into English. He was quite shocked when I told him that none of the students (not even the graduate students) whose L1 was English could read anything more complicated than (possibly) a children’s book. He actually asked an Algerian-born colleague for her take, and she was even less generous: “A list of ingredients on a soup can. With a dictionary” was her response to his question as to what the typical anglophone French student could be counted on to read in French. Sadly she was not exaggerating. In the end I believe he hired some native French-speaking exchange student.
    Which answers Pullum’s question as to how anglophones can be motivated to learn foreign languages well: frankly, in any position where a good command of English and any other language is required, I strongly suspect that a native speaker of English is operating at a distinct disadvantage, inasmuch as it will be assumed that the native English speaker’s command of the L2 will be far inferior to the L2 English of a non-native anglophone.

  6. Etienne – No, never mind, i’m not going to bother replying to that.

  7. You just did.

  8. J. W. Brewer says:

    There are two different but overlapping phenomena here: how do native speakers of language X relate to outsiders trying to speak language X as a general matter, and how do non-Anglophones relate to Anglophones trying to speak other than in English. You need more datapoints to tease these apart, e.g. reactions in Korea and Germany to someone with some non-English L1 not widely known in the host country (Bulgarian, Malagasy, whatever). Would they be more open to that sort of outsider speaking their language, or would their default attitude be, hey, you probably speak English as an L2 just like we do so let’s use that to communicate?

  9. Yeah, I had typed out an anecdote of my own to tell, then realized after his rant that i’d have to go to greater lengths than I really cared to to defend my (admittedly limited) command of french, and gave up. But that was short-tempered of me.
    Another time I was in a coffee-shop I forget where in germany (duesseldorf, maybe?) and got a kick of of listening to the woman behind the counter insist on speaking english, when she couldn’t really understand a word of it. I stuck to german anyway and got my kaffee and kuchen in due order. The british buisnessman in line behind me also ordered in German, let her switch to English, and spent a good couple minutes trying to ask for a cup of coffee and a sweetroll.

  10. From my experience of French classes in the UK, I can well believe that most English speakers of French don’t speak French. I’m a bit surprised by the anecdote though; I’ve generally found academic French easier to read than many children’s books, since the more technical the vocabulary, the closer it gets to English. But I guess it may depend on the domain…

  11. J.W. Brewer: err, the whole point of my posting was to point out a third factor: many an L2 speaker’s linguistic competence falls quite short of what they perceive to be said competence.
    Rather than go on trading anecdotes (I never told you the one about the grad student in comparative literature at an Ivy-league University who asked me what alphabet French is written in, did I?), I would like to point to the fact that there is one fictional character in American popular culture who exemplifies the phenomenon I discussed: fans of the show KING OF THE HILL are of course familiar with Peggy Hill, a character who is a substitute Spanish teacher who genuinely believes herself to be bilingual when in fact her command of the language is so atrocious as to be non-existent. The season 6 episode LUPE’S REVENGE played this beautifully (and hilariously: and may I confess that, when I wasn’t shaking with laughter, I was thinking of several real people while I was watching it?)

  12. marie-lucie says:

    I think that in Europe, part of the reason, or perhaps the main reason, that natives answer anglophones in English even if they themselves do not speak the language well is that the pronunciation of English, whether British* or American, is usually so different from that of local languages that most anglophones are immediately recognizable the moment they open their mouths, even if no other details (clothing, gestures, etc) reveal their origin. If I hear “paar-lay-voo aang-lay”, of course I am going to answer back in English. Also, very few anglophone tourists speak the local language with any fluency (and the locals’ English seems to them to be better than the tourist’s command of the local language), so English usually seems to be a better bet for adequate communication. On the other hand, if an anglophone in France spoke to me in French quite fluently and with reasonably accurate pronunciation, I would most likely answer in French.
    *By British I mean more or less Standard in England; as a student I once spent a few days near the Welsh border and I found the English of Welsh people to be much easier to understand than that of English people, as their sounds and intonation were closer to those of French people speaking English.

  13. Lameen: In my experience the problem with English learners/speakers of French is that they treat reading French as strictly a matter of vocabulary, neglecting structure entirely. I actually confirmed this hunch of mine empirically: as a substitute teacher I had come to suspect that my students knew next to nothing of French grammar and basically succeeded in translating the French sentences of their exercices by looking up each word in a dictionary and then making some guesses. Considering how predictable the content of the exercices was, guessing the meaning correctly would not have been difficult.
    So, without the approval of any ethics board, I decided to perform an experiment involving my students (rubs hands, lightning flashes in the sky…BWA HA HAAA…).
    I prepared some exercises involving the same sentence *structure*, but with content that was much less predictable (I was on a fantasy kick at the time, and so the exercices involved dragons and other such creatures). Hence students were given sentences such as “Le dragon bleu que dévore le dragon rouge” versus “Le dragon bleu qui dévore le dragon rouge”: the only way they could tell whether the red dragon was eating the blue dragon or being eaten by the blue dragon was through knowledge of French structure, not through context.
    And my hypothesis (that students knew nothing of structure, only vocabulary) was proven entirely correct. While in principle they had already been taught the syntax of relative pronouns, the trouble as that this had been tested by means of sentences that were so predictable (“Le chien qui mord l’homme”, “L’homme que le chien a mordu”…I understood why so many students brought coffee to class, I’d fall asleep with such reading material too) that acing the exam without knowing anything about French relative pronouns was not difficult. And as the results of the experiment showed, for all intents and purposes none of my students had any inkling as to the difference between relative “qui” and “que” (in a majority of cases I suspect they never did).
    So, back to your point, Lameen: French academic prose is indeed a little easier for an anglophone reader, *IF said anglophone reader has a good command of French grammar*. For a reader whose command of French grammar is weak to non-existent, however, French academic prose, with its long sentences involving multiple relative clauses and close attention needing to be paid to adjectival and verbal agreement, is wholly impenetrable.

  14. A few years ago when I was in traveling in france, I found myself having conversations with french kids where they spoke (so-so) english to me and I replied in (weak) french: we could speak well enough to be understood, but we couldn’t understand each other’s language spoken fluently (even though we both insisted that we were speaking slowly and using simple words).

  15. On the same trip, Etienne, I found I could read and understand Le Monde cover to cover (looking up the occasional word) except for the opinion pages, where I would understand every word and still not be sure which side of an argument a piece was taking. Fortunately, I’ve never been in a position to need to read French academic prose.

  16. J. W. Brewer says:

    One of the commenters on the Pullum piece confirms my happiness that my firstborn (having reached the grade where our school system starts offering foreign language instruction) has elected Latin.

  17. I actually found vaguevil’s comment the most interesting.
    Your analysis lacks a consideration of codeswitching practices and ideologies as well as the always sociolinguistically controlling element of context.
    Vaguevil went on to say:
    I can share my own experience as a fully competent bilingual, native Spanish speaker living and working in the U.S. I don’t like it when native English speakers meet me and switch to Spanish with me even if they’re equally competent biliinguals, or even when native Spanish speakers do that, especially in the formal work context.
    The example of the Japanese company does not surprise me. But that has a lot to say about the very closed nature of Japanese companies, which are famous abroad for excluding local employees from the ‘inner circle’ (only Japanese employees posted from head office belong to that). That’s why getting a job with a Japanese company is often not considered a rewarding career move, except maybe as a stepping stone to a job with a company in your own country. A person with fluent Japanese (including fluency in Japanese culture) could pose a problem in that context because it would blur the boundaries and make things awkward for everyone. Of course, things may have changed a bit since there are examples of Japanese companies appointing foreigners to head their American divisions. But most Japanese companies tend to exclude locals from meaningful access to power.

  18. John Emerson says:

    My study of spoken Chinese in Taiwan was slowed by this factor, combined with several others. Since I was unable to say anything interesting in Chinese at first, if the person I was talking to knew English I switched to English whenever the conversation got interesting. And people who didn’t speak English often didn’t speak Mandarin very well either. The fact that my girlfriend spoke Chinese to me was an indication that she was very serious about the relationship and wanting to be a good helpmeet.

  19. Just the other day a French lass complemented me on my pronunciation of opera (the cake not the musical drama).

  20. marie-lucie says:

    I could read and understand Le Monde cover to cover
    It is a good exercise to read newspapers and magazines in the language one is studying, because there is a certain amount of shared background knowledge about world events, movies, celebrities, etc which allows the learner to guess at the meaning of many words, even without a dictionary (of course this would be much more difficult with languages with a different script, but the Latin alphabet or even the Russian or Greek ones are not hard to manage). But I agree that one would miss a lot of the subtleties without a knowledge of grammar.
    In addition to what Etienne mentioned, among the difficulties of reading French (and even more Italian or Spanish) prose from an English point of view is the amount of inversion of subject and verb, which is much more common than in English and can lead the reader astray. This is not just found in “academic prose”: serious novels are also full of such pitfalls.

  21. marie-lucie says:

    A few years ago when I was in traveling in rance, I found myself having conversations with french kids where they spoke (so-so) english to me and I replied in (weak) french: we could speak well enough to be understood, but we couldn’t understand each other’s language spoken fluently (even though we both insisted that we were speaking slowly and using simple words).
    I had a similar experience, not with children but adults, when I rented an apartment from Italian immigrants. After a some tries we came to an informal agreement: I spoke to them in my very limited, very slow Italian and they spoke to me in their equally limited and slow English, that way we understood each other at least well enough for communicating on the essentials.
    Kids are notoriously hard to understand if you are not used to their speech. I don’t mean toddlers who can only be understood by their family members, but even school age children. The first time I went to England (as a teenager) and stayed with a family for a week I could manage satisfactorily (with efforts on both sides) with the parents, but had absolutely no idea of what the children (perhaps 10 and 7) were saying even though they were obviously trying hard to make me understand. I still have trouble with some English-speaking children even after decades among anglophones.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    dearieme: opera (the cake not the musical drama)
    I have no idea what you are talking about.

  23. Etienne, I find your comments astounding. I read my first French novel in high school (Christiane Rochefort… can’t remember the title), and that was required by the national curriculum. In French literature classes at university, the poetry, novels, short stories, plays, were all in the original and we were expected to understand perfectly, no excuses.
    But perhaps your dragons help explain the difference between our anecdotes. I remember grammar being taught thoroughly in high school French and German classes.
    I’m from New Zealand, if that’s any help.

  24. Ah, a quick glance at Wikipedia, and that first novel was 《Les petits enfants du siècle》.
    Perhaps I should also add that I still read French easily, but after 14 years in China if I try to speak it, a flood of Mandarin words pours out.
    s/o, as for the opinion pages of Le Monde, I remember a French lecturer at university commenting that politics articles are really hard to understand if you’re not already familiar with the context. Perhaps a similar phenomenon explains your difficulty there?

  25. The essay “O Americano, Outra Vez!” by Richard Feynman has a lot of stuff related in one way or another to language, parts of which I quote here:

    I thought at first that I would give my lectures in English, but I noticed something: When the students were explaining something to me in Portuguese, I couldn’t understand it very well, even though I knew a certain amount of Portuguese. It was not exactly clear to me whether they had said “increase,” or “decrease,” or “not increase,” or “not decrease,” or “decrease slowly.” But when they struggled with English, they’d say “ahp” or “doon,” and I knew which way it was, even though the pronunciation was lousy and the grammar was all screwed up. So I realized that if I was going to talk to them and try to teach them, it would be better for me to talk in Portuguese, poor as it was. It would be easier for them to understand.
    During that first time in Brazil, which lasted six weeks, I was invited to give a talk at the Brazilian Academy of Sciences about some work in quantum electrodynamics that I had just done. I thought I would give the talk in Portuguese, and two students at the center said they would help me with it. I began by writing out my talk in absolutely lousy Portuguese. I wrote it myself, because if they had written it, there would be too many words I didn’t know and couldn’t pronounce correctly. So I wrote it, and they fixed up all the grammar, fixed up the words and made it nice, but it was still at the level that I could read easily and know more or less what I was saying. They practiced with me to get the pronunciations absolutely right: the “de” should be in between “deh” and “day” – it had to be just so.
    I got to the Brazilian Academy of Sciences meeting, and the first speaker, a chemist, got up and gave his talk – in English. Was he trying to be polite, or what? I couldn’t understand what he was saying because his pronunciation was so bad, but maybe everybody else had the same accent so they could understand him; I don’t know. Then the next guy gets up, and gives his talk in English!
    When it was my turn, I got up and said, “I’m sorry; I hadn’t realized that the official language of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences was English, and therefore I did not prepare my talk in English. So please excuse me, but I’m going to have to give it in Portuguese.”
    So I read the thing, and everybody was very pleased with it.
    The next guy to get up said, “Following the example of my colleague from the United States, I also will give my talk in Portuguese.” So, for all I know, I changed the tradition of what language is used in the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.
    [...]
    But the language was always difficult for me, and I kept working on it all the time, reading the newspaper, and so on. I kept on giving my lectures in Portuguese – what I call “Feynman’s Portuguese,” which I knew couldn’t be the same as real Portuguese, because I could understand what I was saying, while I couldn’t understand what the people in the street were saying.

    On the leader of his samba school choosing him to perform for Carnival rather than an apparently superior player:

    My theory is that it’s like a person who speaks French who comes to America. At first they’re making all kinds of mistakes, and you can hardly understand them. Then they keep on practicing until they speak rather well, and you fin d there’s a delightful twist to their way of speaking – their accent is rather nice, and you love to listen to it. So I must have had some sort of accent playing the frigideira, because I couldn’t compete with those guys who had been playing it all their lives; it must have been some kind of dumb accent. But whatever it was, I became a rather successful frigideira player.

    On how it was that no actual science was being taught in Brazil:

    I gave the analogy of a Greek scholar who loves the Greek language, who knows that in his own country there aren’t many children studying Greek. But he comes to another country, where he is delighted to find everybody studying Greek – even the smaller kids in the elementary schools. He goes to the examination of a student who is coming to get his degree in Greek, and asks him, “What were Socrates’ ideas on the relationship between Truth and Beauty?” – and the student can’t answer. Then he asks the student, What did Socrates say to Plato in the Third Symposium?” the student lights up and goes, “Brrrrrrrrr-up” – he tells you everything, word for word, that Socrates said, in beautiful Greek.
    But what Socrates was talking about in the Third Symposium was the relationship between Truth and Beauty!
    What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something. To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students can understand.

  26. And here’s “Montreal VI: Joual 4, Nicholas 1″ by Nick Nicholas:

    My French may be wretched, but it’s not Anglo-wretched: it’s Greek-wretched. Anglos are frustrated trying to practice their French in Montreal, because Montrealers hear their ‘Allo ‘Allo vowels, and respond in English. More often than not though, I did not get le switch: people in the service industries responded in French. (Although I’ll note, le switch did happen more often when it came time for the bill.)

  27. I understand where Etienne is coming from. I often find it painful to hear non-native English speakers attempt English. Quite a few non-native English speakers have a very inflated sense of their own abilities. I once had a Romanian colleague who had a great command of English vocabulary but whom none of us could understand when he spoke. Nonetheless he would proudly tell people he was fluent and poke fun at other non-natives who had much better accents and natural speech than he did.
    My experience living as an expat in Russia, Japan and China was that Americans and Australians seemed to be the only Westerners who ever mastered the local language (I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions, but that was my experience). Ironically it is typically the Western Europeans who seem to feel most strongly that everyone in the non-Western world should learn English. I suppose if they had to learn it then everyone else must too. Germans, Dutch and Swedes are especially guilty of this attitude.
    In the Anglophone world the Irish seem to me to be the worst at learning foreign languages. Maybe the forced consumption of Irish in school turns them off foreign languages forever.

  28. “dearieme: opera (the cake not the musical drama)
    I have no idea what you are talking about.”
    Oh well, start by listening to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro; it’s a wonderful thing.

  29. In the Anglophone world the Irish seem to me to be the worst at learning foreign languages. Maybe the forced consumption of Irish in school turns them off foreign languages forever.

    Where did you meet these Irish, Vanya? I’m not particularly flag-waving in general, but in my time in various European countries, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by other Irish people’s language skills, even those working in Irish bars. (The educated civil servants in places like the OECD and the European bureaucracy could be *expected* to have good foreign-language skills, of course.) I’m in Istanbul at the moment, must visit the local Irish pub with my Turkish-speaking Azeri wife, will report from the field. :)

  30. Aidan – take my observation with a grain of salt. Most of the Irish I have met abroad have been people working in pubs or restaurants – I am thinking primarily of Vienna, Moscow and Irish friends back in Boston. I am sure it is not a representative sampling by any means and was probably quite an unfair observation.

  31. I never told you the one about the grad student in comparative literature at an Ivy-league University who asked me what alphabet French is written in, did I?
    Ho ho. Yes, anecdotes are always fun, but if you’re claiming that one has anything but amusement value, I’m afraid I’m not going to take anything you have to say on the issue seriously. Yes, lots of English-speakers have terrible French, language instruction in the US at least is pretty abysmal on the whole, but you seem to be claiming there’s no such thing as an English-speaker who’s any good at French, let alone fluent, which is absurd and insulting. I’m sorry you’ve had such dispiriting experiences, but frankly you remind me of a guy who’s been mugged and therefore feels himself entitled to make far-reaching sociological observations.

  32. I read somewhere the French being taught in American schools is the French of the 18th or 19th century. Is that right? Why would that be?
    I think it was in Mental Floss magazine.

  33. It’s very possible to be a fluent speaker and writer of English (or many other things) without knowing which alphabet it’s written in – it’s just the alphabet. Another language using the same alphabet wouldn’t necessarily change that.
    It might be a bit odd to get to the postgrad stage without the name sticking, but I can’t see that it affects your ability to write using that alphabet.

  34. des von bladet says:

    It is a commonplace that the Dutch and Swedish systematically discourage learners (even advanced ones) from using their languages – can Pullum really be that astonished that some very educated Germans have adopted a similar stance?
    Meanwhile, I get more than my fair share of opportunities to talk to monolingual children in my L2, and I mostly wish I understood less of it. (Although it’s not as bad as one-sided phone calls on trains, which are my #1 all-time top reason not to learn the local language.)

  35. “It is a commonplace that the Dutch and Swedish systematically discourage learners (even advanced ones) from using their languages – can Pullum really be that astonished that some very educated Germans have adopted a similar stance?”
    This surely is one of the stages of language shift, or even of language death.

  36. Hat: Err, in my 3:34 comment I mention a former colleague, an American who learned French as an adult and spoke it perfectly. So I’m not sure how I could be accused of generalizing/stereotyping.
    The fact that said colleague (with far more teaching experience than I, I might add) took it for granted that her American-born students could not be expected to have an adequate command of the foreign language they had studied seems to indicate that it’s more than me and my biases here. The quote above of that Algerian-born teacher points in the same direction. And I observed the same pattern at different Universities in North America, all otherwise quite dissimlar from one another.
    And to clarify: I am not blaming the students themselves for this state of affairs at all. On the contrary, most were motivated, intelligent individuals who, I am certain, could have become fluent in French or indeed in any foreign language, if only foreign languages were properly taught. Which, alas, they aren’t. The frustration I am expressing is the frustration of someone who was and remains aghast at the waste of all that intellectual potential and for whom these students deserved and deserve much better.
    I would like to recommend to interested readers (Chris Waugh: you especially may find this of interest) Hector Hammerly’s book FRENCH IMMERSION: MYTHS AND REALITY. This describes the dominant method of L2 French teaching in Anglophone Canada, and explains (on the basis of a number of scholarly studies) why this method does not and cannot work. I only discovered and read this book recently, and I can assure you that reading it gave me quite a shock: a shock of recognition.

  37. Etienne – I’m curious, what do you think would remedy this problem, if the issue isn’t the students, that is? Which method is best? And why do you think non-English European students are taught so much better?

  38. Zabani, I think the big difference is expectations. When I taught high school French for a short time it always came as a pleasant surprise to the students that I meant for them to learn how to form actual sentences and to actually communicate, in both directions. Anything else was a waste of their time. Later when I was covering a Spanish class for a couple of weeks I found the same attitude – surprise at being excepted to become even a little competent.
    These kids didn’t invent these expectations. they learned them form thier teachers who had learned over the years that no one else cared if students learned these languages, what they cared about was getting four semesters of some langauge, any language, to fulfill a college entrance requirement. It was very much like the Japnese students of the last generation who took years of English and never really learned it, and for the same reason.
    French and Spanish classes attract these students because frankly these two languages are considered the easiest, and they are, compared to others offered in most high schools. German has basically died out in high schools. Japanese or Chinese require some real work, and high school is very late to be starting anyway.

  39. Zabani, I don’t think there are any valuable lessons to be learnt about European students learning foreign languages, only about the very unusual example of Scandinavian children learning English: they see English being spoken almost from birth, on TV; they learn it at school from the age of six; by the time they are in high school their English classes discuss politics as well as English literature and drama and other cultural stuff. Their second & third languages, starting in undomsskole are much less well learnt. By that time it’s too late, and they’re more like British students learning French (or French kids learning English). German children too are much less fluent in English, in my experience, than Scandinavians. Germany, France & Italy are simply less anglophone than the Netherlands or Scandinavia and less interested in moving in that direction. English-language programmes on TV and at the cinema are dubbed rather than subtitled, for example. As for any of these countries learning a different second language – not English – from the age of six, well, unless it’s enforced for some political or ethnic reason it ain’t gonna happen, is it?

  40. AJP, I agree. Having lived there till the age of 11 I can confirm what you say. English is usually the priority and it’s literally everywhere. French, German, or even neighbouring Norwegian or Danish are rarely seen. To this day, I’ve not really come across Swedes who speak French or German well, not that they don’t exist. Just that it’s much easier to find a Swede competent in English, than in German or French, which is partly due to what you explained.
    This is perhaps unrelated but nonetheless it’s a funny anecdote. Sweden, I think, is generally less tolerant than, say, the UK. Much less tolerant. Things you here from educated Swedes, usually older people but sometimes younger, would never be uttered in the UK. I’ve often heard immigrants complaining that they are treated like second-class citizens when they speak Swedish and they have an accent, even if they speak it very well. To that end, a friend of mine, an engineer by profession, actually resorted to speaking in English around 80% of the time when he was there. He claims that whenever he spoke in English he was treated like some sort of celebrity and whenever he switched to Swedish he was treated like a parasitic immigrant.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    American students (and most anglophones in Canada) live in a largely monolingual universe. The most common attitude to the large minority languages (Spanish and French respectively) is “They should learn English”. There are many other languages spoken on the continent, some by large groups of immigrants (Chinese and other Asian languages), but in those cases the average anglophone considers minority languages as an inconvenience, at best tolerated on the part of adult immigrants but which should disappear as children born in the new country will adopt English, just like the children of earlier immigrants.
    On the other hand, people in Europe cannot be totally unreceptive to the languages spoken belong their borders (as an isolated island country, Ireland may be the exception!). Inhabitants of small (eg Netherlands) or geographically peripheral (eg Portugal) countries do not expect others to learn their languages, but have a vital interest in learning at least one language which will serve them as they travel beyond their borders, or at least for communication with incoming tourists and other relatively high status foreigners. Even if the major languages may not be very well taught or learned, nobody disputes the importance of knowing at least one them, especially one spoken just across one border (eg Spanish or Italian in Southern France, German along the German border). This means that at least theoretically, educated Europeans can meet their peers from a neighbouring country on an equal basis: I may have a French accent and typical mistakes in German, but a German person will speak with a German accent, etc in French. But the languages of immigrants from impoverished, culturally different countries (Turkey, North Africa) do not receive such attention: I am not sure if Arabic is taught in any French schools (Chinese is now taught in some secondary schools, but not because of any massive immigration from China!).
    For the teaching of European languages in North America, there are many problems besides the perceived lack of relevance to the students’ lives (except for those whose parents have travelled and studied in Europe, obviously a very small minority). One is the age at which teaching is started (often coinciding with the age of puberty, which brings its own problems). Another major one is the lack of linguistic competence among teachers, some of whom are more or less willingly assigned to teach a language class on the basis of a year or two in college, or even only in high school. This may be the only solution available in a small rural school, but such teachers are usually far from fluent and in the absence of specific training, they tend to teach the way they themselves were taught, by people in similar situations.
    As for the “immersion” classes (hugely popular in Canada as parents see learning French as a future career asset), I think (without having reviewed the literature on the topic) that the early pilot program in Montreal, involving selected teachers and students, special training, close monitoring and ongoing revision) was probably fairly successful (plus, it was in Montreal, which has a huge French population), but as demand for such programs grew throughout the country it far outstripped the resources available for starting them, with predictably dire results. Like Etienne I have had years of experience dealing with students who went through many years of “French immersion”. Some of them do speak quite fluently but with appalling pronunciation and grammar, and their writing skills are a match. I can remember only ONE student coming from an immersion program who could pass for a native speaker. She was an anglophone from Montreal, so her French language experience both passive and active had not been limited to the school offerings.

  42. And to clarify: I am not blaming the students themselves for this state of affairs at all. On the contrary, most were motivated, intelligent individuals who, I am certain, could have become fluent in French or indeed in any foreign language, if only foreign languages were properly taught. Which, alas, they aren’t. The frustration I am expressing is the frustration of someone who was and remains aghast at the waste of all that intellectual potential and for whom these students deserved and deserve much better.
    I certainly share your frustration, and I’m sorry I overreacted to your anecdotes. Language is a touchy subject!
    I can remember only ONE student coming from an immersion program who could pass for a native speaker.
    That’s an awfully high bar. I think fluency can encompass “speaks with an accent and doesn’t always choose the idiomatic word, but can converse comfortably on any topic.” Not that there are many Americans who can make that claim either, of course. I certainly can’t, though I used to be able to converse pretty well in French and was quite fluent in Spanish (but that was almost a half-century ago!).

  43. I would like to point to the fact that there is one fictional character in American popular culture who exemplifies the phenomenon I discussed: fans of the show KING OF THE HILL are of course familiar with Peggy Hill, a character who is a substitute Spanish teacher who genuinely believes herself to be bilingual when in fact her command of the language is so atrocious as to be non-existent.
    Are you suggesting the “call yourself” bilingual phenomenon is more widespread in America than elsewhere?

  44. I am not sure if Arabic is taught in any French schools
    You may find this interesting.
    (Le Monde diplo and Le Canard Enchainé are the only printed French newspapers you can reliably get around here any more.)

  45. marie-lucie says:

    LH, I did not mean that the goal for students in those programs should be to pass for native speakers (I can’t pass for a native English speaker myself), but that is what most parents who enroll their children in these programs expect will be the result! The student I mentioned was exceptionally gifted, and she was from Montreal, where many anglophones (and more francophones) are comfortable in both languages. The vast majority of students coming from “French immersion” are far from meeting a reasonable definition of second-language fluency, which should also include at least some minimal command of grammar: not confusing the basic forms of être and avoir, for instance declaring “Je suis un chat” ‘I am a cat’ when they mean “J’ai un chat” ‘I have a cat’ – and not noticing their error – even after years spent in the program). And many of those students have a “certificate of bilingualism” delivered by their school! I think it only means that they have spent X number of years in the program. The Canadian government has many positions that require a degree of knowledge of the “other” language (as measured by specific criteria depending on the knowledge required), and offers courses for its employees to upgrade to meet specific requirements. I don’t think too many French immersion students would test higher than the first level (except perhaps those anglophones from a French-majority city).

  46. The fact that said colleague (with far more teaching experience than I, I might add) took it for granted that her American-born students could not be expected to have an adequate command of the foreign language they had studied…
    Sounds like said colleague had her nose too high in the air. With said attitude, her teaching game doesn’t smell any rosier.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    Merci, MMcM! I was behind the times.

  48. I did not mean that the goal for students in those programs should be to pass for native speakers…but that is what most parents who enroll their children in these programs expect will be the result!
    Hello m-l,
    What is to account for the unrealistic pipe-dreams of so many “Tiger” parents? Garrison Keillor’s mantra holds a strong sway in the little houses on the North American prairie.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Hozho: What is to account for the unrealistic pipe-dreams of so many “Tiger” parents?
    I don’t think that the parents of those children are “Tiger” parents, just well-meaning people who regret they did not learn French very well in school (it has been part of the regular curriculum in Canada for many decades, but rarely well taught in past generations) and who think that this wonderful new method will work miracles and make their children fully bilingual, equally at home in English and French. Hearing their children speak any French at all seems wonderful, but they don’t realize how poorly most of those children actually speak French – perhaps more fluently (faster, with more confidence) than the parents, but that is not saying much.

  50. Hat: apology accepted, although in retrospect it is clear that it is I who owes you and everyone else an apology for not having made it clear from the onset that I blame the system, not the students. Indeed I greatly admired those students who had managed to reach some degree of fluency despite a system which seemed designed to prevent them from ever acquiring an adequate L2 command of the language.
    I find it telling that Marie-Lucie’s experience mirrors my own. I should stress that most of her experience teaching French took place in the one part of Anglophone Canada I myself never taught in. But like her, I have found that it is exceptionally rare for immersion students to have even a minimally adequate command of either spoken or written French.
    Hozho: the “call yourself” bilingual phenomenon may or may not be more common in the United States than elsewhere (it would be well-nigh impossible to verify this rigorously), but the fact that the phenomenon is satirized in popular culture does seem to indicate that it exists.
    It is indeed encouraging that it is satirized: after all, the first step to solving a problem is accepting that there in fact is a problem, and satirists have often been the first to point the finger at problems.
    (And parenthetically, speaking as a Canadian, I must say that a few Mike Judge-type satirists, Stephen Colbert-type newscasters, and an ONION-or LE CANARD ENCHAÎNÉ-type newspaper, would all do this country a mountain of good).
    Zabani: I certainly do not claim to have a one-size-fits-all answer. In particular, I strongly suspect that French immersion in anglophone Canada exhibits a number of SUI GENERIS problems, for a number of historical reasons which I shan’t go into.
    Finally: over at the Lingua Franca thread a commentator (fourth from last, when I last checked) makes the same observation I do, regarding German: most German speakers will happily speak German with *fluent* L2 speakers, but unfortunately (quoth the commentator) most anglophone L2 speakers are simply not fluent enough.

  51. marie-lucie says:

    stephen: I read somewhere the French being taught in American schools is the French of the 18th or 19th century. Is that right? Why would that be?
    Surely this is not deliberate, but there is a grain of truth in the statement, probably not limited to French: in schools (including university departments) where some literature is taught, there will probably be works from those earlier periods, for instance Voltaire’s short novel “Candide”, rather than more recent works which might be considered unsuitable for a number of reasons. The language of such older works is not really archaic, it is on a par with English works of the same period: still very readable prose (although not modern), but the dialogues can be rather dated. A language teacher who has not spent much time in the country where the language is spoken but has learned a lot from books will also tend to know book language rather than current colloquialisms.
    Another thing is that when you teach language, you have to speak more slowly than you would in a normal conversation, and slower speech tends to mean more formal speech, which in turn resembles older prose (writing being more conservative than speech).
    To illustrate the first point: I know a German woman who recently ended a career as a French teacher in Berlin. We actually met as teenagers, she once came to France for a visit, and although I lost touch with her over the years, she maintained her acquaintance with the rest of my family. Last year while I was in France for the holidays she phoned, spoke with some family members, and she and I exchanged a few words (in French) for the first time in years. Among other things she said something like Es-tu heureuse de te retrouver au sein de ta famille? ‘Are you happy to be once again in the bosom of your family?’, not how I or any of my relatives (even the oldest ones) would have chosen to express the same idea except as a learned joke, an imitation of 18th century speech as found in novels and plays of the period. But she did not realize that the phrase was no longer in use in everyday French.

  52. I recall reading an anecdote a while back (I can’t find it at this instant) of an American guy whose Japanese girl-friend told him to stop speaking Japanese with her, because it was making her “think less of him”. The problem was that he’d learned it from a female tutor, and picked up a lot of the female intonations.

  53. The King of the Hill character is an exaggeration, of course: certainly people overestimate their language abilities, but I think everyone I’ve met who’s claimed to be *bilingual* grew up speaking the other language at home. (Since almost no one actually learns the second language they take in school, they would scarcely be believed anyhow.)

  54. J. W. Brewer says:

    I am interested in the claim that the quality of French learned in Anglophone Canada is no better than that in the U.S. Obviously many/most Anglophone Canadians may study French unenthusiastically and try to do the minimum necessary to get whatever grade is what they and/or their parents will consider good enough for show, but you’d think (at least in recent decades – things may have been different in the days of yore) that there would be some material minority that was more motivated to acquire a higher level of competence, for careerist reasons if nothing else (although the career paths for which it’s useful are not necessarily the career paths everyone wants or should want to pursue). And at least in *parts* of Anglophone Canada it should be easier to get reinforcement outside school if you were interested. E.g., wikipedia says that Toronto has 3 radio stations and 1 tv station that are all French, all the time, which is not the case in New York City (here, you can find irregular radio programming for the Haitian-American community which I assume is mostly in Kreyol that would be incomprehensible to most Quebecois). So even if the median were about the same, one might expect the top 10-20% of college-age L2 French-speakers in Anglophone Canada to be notably more fluent than the comparable slice in the U.S. Does anyone have a theory as to why that’s not the case (if indeed it is not the case)?

  55. I am interested in the claim that the quality of French learned in Anglophone Canada is no better than that in the U.S.
    English is English
    French is French
    And never the Canadian language train shall meet, eh?

  56. marie-lucie says:

    JWB, I agree that there are many Canadian anglophones who become extremely competent in French, but they are indeed a minority and few of them achieve this result through school programs (below university). Etienne and I were mostly talking about the “French immersion” programs in public schools, which are far from delivering the promised results, for a variety of reasons.
    Hearing a language of the radio is very useful for comprehension, but without actual communication with native speakers it is hard to acquire an active rather than passive knowledge.

  57. J.W. Brewer: since you asked, I have a theory which fits the facts:
    Compared to the United States, anglophone Canada suffers from a very deeply-rooted francophobia which is all the more powerful because it very seldom if ever surfaces openly.
    This phenomenon is easily understandable for historical reasons: the Loyalists who left the newly-formed United States and settled in Canada (where at first they remained a numerical minority compared to French-Canadians) were, as a historian (Madison Wade) put it, a traumatized group of people who had fled the American revolution and were terrified they might have to flee a Canadian one.
    To say that this was not conducive to an interest in the French language on their part would be to understate the issue considerably. As a Canadian military historian (Gwynne Dyer) put it, the only thing that stopped the British government (with its Loyalist subjects’ very active and willing support) from physically deporting/exterminating the French-Canadian population (much as it had deported the Acadians in the mid-eighteenth century) was the geopolitically precarious standing of Canada.
    That is to say, the proximity of the (much more populous) United States meant that keeping Canada British required that its inhabitants (including its many Catholic francophones) be content with British rule: to any intelligent planner in London, it was obvious that an American invasion combined with a French-Canadian rebellion would doom British rule. The contrast between the British treatment of French Canada and Ireland in the nineteenth century boils down to that single factor, really. Much of Québec’s present-day americanophilia stems from awareness of this reality, incidentally.
    So while at first glance you might think anglophone Canada is a good place to be in if you are a native speaker of English who wishes to acquire L2 French, this is not true. The most important thing a learner (of anything, not just a language) needs to have is motivation. And Anglo-Canadians are strongly motivated to *avoid* learning French at all costs.
    Indeed I suspect that much of what made French immersion a popular method of teaching French in the first place was the claim that children would “pick up” the language unconsciously. What is left unsaid here is the knowledge that Anglo-Canadian children, just like their parents, would otherwise refuse to learn French: they had to be tricked into learning it, so to speak, as otherwise they simply wouldn’t.
    The very fact that Immersion French was created as a response to anglophone parents’ desire, *in Montreal*, to have their children acquire L2 French, is also symptomatic. To these English-Canadian parents, the very notion that they might send their children to a public French-language school, to an environment where they would be surrounded by native French-speaking children, was very simply unthinkable. Quite utterly beyond the pale. Having their children acquire French, yes, for economic reasons, that is desirable. But interact with native speakers? Out of the question.
    I once had a chance to observe a related phenomenon in action, actually, when I taught linguistics to a group of anglophone Canadian students. One of them was actually born in Montreal, but her (English monolingual) parents had moved away when she was three or four, and thus she was as monolingual as her parents. When I taught them IPA I found that this particular student was quite capable of pronouncing such exotic sounds as click consonants, glottalized stops, velar fricatives…but nasalized vowels, front rounded vowels, an uvular fricative? She couldn’t. Not physically: psychologically. And the common denominator of those sounds that she could not produce? All are present in (Montreal) French.
    I am convinced that at some level she had absorbed (probably from her parents) the principle that French is Bad, that to utter anything French-sounding was beyond vile. Yet *on the surface* she was by no means a bigot or anti-French (you don’t get a lot of such students in linguistics classes). Just a seemingly very typical young anglophone Canadian. And, I fear, in her unconscious francophobia, perhaps she indeed was typical.
    I have found nothing in the literature on the topic (no surprise: the extreme americanization of anglophone Canada –I think it could be called culture death– means that anything specifically Canadian is considered “good” by default. As a result, any study aimed at exploring a specifically anglo-Canadian form of prejudice is about as likely to get funding or publicity as a Richard Dawkins book at a Southern Baptist convention).
    I have found, however (quite by chance), references to similar phenomena involving Cree-speaking children adopted into anglo-Canadian homes who as adults are psychologically traumatized and are (inter alia) incapable of uttering anything Cree-sounding.
    P.S. Since the above claim may appear a little strong, if not offensive, I wish to stress that if anyone requests it I can and will provide (downthread) the exact references I mention above.

  58. Wow, that’s absolutely fascinating.

  59. I remember marie-lucie said here before something about Southern French people of yore learning Italian. Because the tap sounded patois, if you just get Frenchified, you can’t pronounce it even if it’s in the prestigious Italian language.

  60. This phenomenon is easily understandable for historical reasons: the Loyalists who left the newly-formed United States and settled in Canada (where at first they remained a numerical minority compared to French-Canadians) were, as a historian (Madison Wade) put it, a traumatized group of people who had fled the American revolution and were terrified they might have to flee a Canadian one.
    The Battle of Montreal and the subsequent takeover of Quebec by the British was in 1759. British Canada was structurally present by the time of the “Loyalists” escaping the American colonial uprising. Yes, there were “traumatized” Brits who fled north at that time but to impute a “strong motivation to AVOID” the French language in 2013 to the geopolitical vicissitudes of the late 18th century is to strain credibility.
    keeping Canada British required that its inhabitants (including its many Catholic francophones) be content with British rule
    Likewise, there was equal incentive for the Brits to get along with their French-Canadian neighbors for fear of the Yanks stepping into the fray. This would imply a greater inter-dependence and understanding, including linguistically, no?
    What is left unsaid here is the knowledge that Anglo-Canadian children, just like their parents, would otherwise refuse to learn French: they had to be tricked into learning it, so to speak, as otherwise they simply wouldn’t.
    If this was the case historically, there would be evidence throughout the centuries of Anglo-Canadians patently refusing to learn French. Perhaps our historians have looked for that evidence? What Francophile Canadians refuse to admit is that English was present and ALL citizens of eastern Canada would have, at minimum, acquired a working knowledge of it even in the late 18th century. Living in such geographic and economic proximity to the English-speaking, fast-growing colonies they had little choice. The subsequent reasons for lacking motivation to acquire a second language is not historically different from that of their American neighbors. Since when do children listen to what their parents tell them to do anyway?

  61. I have found, however (quite by chance), references to similar phenomena involving Cree-speaking children adopted into anglo-Canadian homes who as adults are psychologically traumatized and are (inter alia) incapable of uttering anything Cree-sounding.
    It depends upon the age or the stage of “birth” language acquisition these “Cree” children were at when adopted, doesn’t it? When is a Cree child NOT a Cree child if he/she is adopted at five days old? To speak of being “traumatized” because they can’t speak a language they never experienced is ridiculous.
    I fail to see any correlation between Anglo Canadian parents supposedly “traumatizing” adopted children into forgetting their birth language (with the strong reserve as mentioned above)and that of inciting their own offspring to avoid the perfidious Par-lay-voo at all costs because someone’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather refused to speak it.

  62. As someone who’s interested in languages, I’ll often be excited about meeting a native speaker of a language which I am trying to learn, and will try to start a conversation in it. However, that person might not share my enthusiasm and will often prefer efficient communication to participating in my language experiment. At this point, I usually take a hint and decide to get better at the language before burdening that person with it.
    If I insist on speaking their language, even after it’s been established that we can communicate more efficiently in another language, is it so strange that they get annoyed?
    I am not sure which of the cases mentioned in the article were cases of people taking offense in someone trying to LEARN their language, and which were cases of people taking offence in someone expecting native speakers to be their unpaid language tutors, but I just want to highlight that these are two completely different things.

  63. JW: Toronto has 3 radio stations and 1 tv station that are all French, all the time, which is not the case in New York City
    That reminds me that greater Oslo has an all-French radio station. There’s also a kindergarten – 12th grade ‘Lycée Français’ in Oslo of the type found in London, NY & elsewhere.

  64. If I insist on speaking their language, even after it’s been established that we can communicate more efficiently in another language, is it so strange that they get annoyed?
    Not at all, and this is of course a known phenomenon that we can all understand; the issue under discussion is the much more interesting one of people who refuse to speak their own language with a foreigner who speaks it very well, so that the issue of efficiency does not come up.

  65. Who is this Hozho guy? Sounds like our old friend Hozo on very strong liquor.

  66. J. W. Brewer says:

    Without getting into other issues with Etienne’s cosmic theory (timeline; the mechanism for assimilating all the more recent immigrants and their descendents to a particular unspoken paranoia based on long-since-changed prior historical circumstances), maybe we could harmonize with a prediction that Anglophone Canadian students of French will be more widely dispersed than US students – many and perhaps most will (for any number of reasons) be even less motivated than Americans to acquire a given degree of fluency, but at the other end of the distribution maybe some (it doesn’t have to be a lot, just some) would be more motivated. The US does have the advantage, if that’s the right word, that the default foreign language for the last few decades has been Spanish – i.e., that’s the language you presumptively take if you are told you have to sign up for a foreign language but don’t really care about learning a foreign language. So there is at least a modest degree of self-selection going on among those who sign up for French (or German, or Latin, etc.) To the extent French is the default foreign language in Anglophone Canada (or is even a required subject, a la Gaelic in Irish schools?), you are going to get a less self-selected and thus less-motivated-on-average group of students.
    I used to live quite near the Lycee in Manhattan. The sullen teenage girls who would hang out on the street corner after school smoking cigarettes and gossiping in French seemed to share Etienne’s jaundiced view but reportedly misapplied it empirically (i.e. the number of random passers-by on the Upper East Side who knew enough French to follow what they were saying was perhaps greater than they had supposed).

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: I have found, however (quite by chance), references to similar phenomena involving Cree-speaking children adopted into anglo-Canadian homes who as adults are psychologically traumatized and are (inter alia) incapable of uttering anything Cree-sounding.
    Hozho: It depends upon the age or the stage of “birth” language acquisition these “Cree” children were at when adopted, doesn’t it? When is a Cree child NOT a Cree child if he/she is adopted at five days old? To speak of being “traumatized” because they can’t speak a language they never experienced is ridiculous.
    Hozho, you are not familiar with the social situation Etienne is talking about. It used to be that many native children (not newborn babies but let’s say pre-schoolers, so old enough to be competent in their native language) were taken from their families by the social services for various reasons (there was hardly any support for the families themselves) and entrusted to Anglo-Canadian families for fostering or even adoption. Obviously the often permanent separation from family and language and the immersion in an alien, disapproving culture was traumatic.

  68. J. W. Brewer says:

    Would one expect an adult raised in a purely Anglophone environment from the age of 3 or 4 onwards who in the first few years of life had been exposed to a different language to retain competence in that original L1 (even if only in the ability to utter sounds outside the standard phonological inventory of English) decades later to a greater extent than those who had been in an Anglophone-only environment from birth? I.e., do we need “trauma” as an explanation, or is the data sufficiently explained by the possibility that language competence acquired in toddlerhood can atrophy if not kept up? Do we have a control group of adults removed from a Cree-speaking environment at the same early age but whose subsequent experience with Anglophone foster/adoptive family was less “traumatic” by other measures who are better at Cree phonology?

  69. 1-Over at the “Lingua Franca” thread yet another commentator, seemingly Chinese by nationality (third from last comment when I checked) pointed out that Chinese speakers’ tendency to use English with foreigners was simply due to foreigners’ Chinese being too poor.
    2-Incidentally, in discussing this thread with an acquaintance I was reminded of a group of (very popular) Québec humorists whose repeated parodies of the utterly incomprehensible “French” spoken by many anglophone Canadians (mostly politicians) does add grist to my mill, i.e. it seems to point to French-language teaching in anglophone Canada as being unusually deficient. My explanation upthread as to why this is so may or may not be the correct one, of course: infallibility is not one of my many qualities. Speaking of which…
    3-Hozho, J.W. Brewer: Do you believe that the state of present-day relations between Blacks and Whites in the United States can be fruitfully discussed if no attention is paid to its beginnings, i.e. to slavery and the ever-growing importance of the plantation economy in the South back in the eighteenth century?
    I for one do not. Nor in turn do I believe that Anglo-French relations in Canada can be fruitfully discussed if the historical context is ignored, either. I cannot help but notice that you are both dismissive of my claim, and yet neither of you asked me for the references (upon which my claim was based) which I had said (above) I would supply, if anyone asked.
    I guess it’s true: as they say in the American South, Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.
    4-A clarification: the adult I refer to above, who could not produce Cree-sounding words or sounds, was someone who otherwise could produce non-English sounds: the psychological blockage involved specifically CREE sounds. Which parallels the case of that Anglo-Canadian student I discussed above quite closely. And which to my mind deserves to be called the product of a trauma.

  70. anglophone Canada suffers from a very deeply-rooted francophobia
    Not the word I would use as I don’t see fear being part of it. More like fed up: “Why don’t those silly buggers stop whining and blackmailing the rest of us?” Anglophone Canada paid jillions of dollars over the years for such turkeys as Mirabel Airport outside Montreal, an outright sop to Quebec.
    A good percentage of Quebec residents wants to separate, but to keep the Canadian dollar as its currency while it runs its own actuarily deficient pension plan. It wants ultra-special rights for French, but won’t come near considering the same for native / first nations / aboriginal languages spoken in Quebec.
    Francophone Quebeckers don’t give a fig about the rest of Canada. If they did, they’d have more than zero journalists/reporters covering what happens in the rest of the country (they do have correspondents in Ottawa, but that’s national politics that can directly affect them).
    An ugly little joke about French immersion retains currency. Q: What’s the trouble with French immersion? A: They don’t keep them under long enough.
    _______________________________
    I attended junior high and high school in Toronto many decades ago. French was compulsory from Grade 8 for several years and I remember looking forward to studying the language, as did my friends. I took it through Grade 13 (there was such a thing). As far as I recall, we had five classes a week of 40 minutes duration each. I can’t judge if the language was taught well or not. I can say that no one I knew gained real fluency. I don’t know if there was a focus on learning vocabulary, but without question that’s what I did. I know I failed to properly learn verb tenses, and my understanding of the language’s structure must have been weak; surely it’s almost all long since gone. We had virtually no opportunity to speak French outside the classroom, and I’ve never been able to carry on more than a rudimentary conversation. I did learn how to read fairly well, and still take pride in my ability to understand considerably more than the gist of a newspaper article. Some of the reading ability is likely due to the bilingual packaging and operating instructions for all consumer products sold in Canada. I’ve never surveyed them, but I’d say that most of my friends from that era have similar overall competency. (Latin was compulsory for one year, Grade 10, though I studied it for two, and German was also offered in the two last years for those with sufficiently good grades in English, French and perhaps Latin.)

  71. “In the Anglophone world the Irish seem to me to be the worst at learning foreign languages. Maybe the forced consumption of Irish in school turns them off foreign languages forever.”
    Until 1967, the majority of children left school at 14. For those who finished secondary school, the third language, after English and Irish, was almost always French for girls and Latin for boys, the latter in case they should want to train for the priesthood. Things have improved since then of course. And more people actually get to travel abroad, watch movies and TV, read newspapers etc, in languages they have studied. But recent years have seen little progress.
    Leaving Certificate examination candidates
    language 2002 2012
    English 52K 51K
    Irish 48K 43K
    French 31K 25K
    German 8K 7K
    Spanish 1.6K 3K
    Italian 200 350
    Russian x 300
    Japanese x 250
    Arabic 86 124
    Latin 139 91

  72. “Why don’t those silly buggers stop whining and blackmailing the rest of us?” Anglophone Canada paid jillions of dollars over the years for such turkeys as Mirabel Airport outside Montreal, an outright sop to Quebec
    (…)
    An ugly little joke about French immersion retains currency. Q: What’s the trouble with French immersion? A: They don’t keep them under long enough
    Ugly indeed. As between this venom and its putative rationale, one wonders as to which is cause and which effect. Similar nastiness directed at other ethnic groups around the world, and through the ages, has generally had a justification of some sort.
    But the gypsies really do steal our chickens…

  73. @Hozho
    What Francophile Canadians refuse to admit is that English was present and ALL citizens of eastern Canada would have, at minimum, acquired a working knowledge of it even in the late 18th century. Living in such geographic and economic proximity to the English-speaking, fast-growing colonies they had little choice
    “All” is a big word. Even in Britain itself there were non-English-speakers (Welsh and Scottish Gaelic monolinguals) well into the 20th century.

  74. One time, having lunch with someone from South America, I suggested that we each speak our native language (though his English was faultless); I can’t speak Spanish but, having studied a couple of other Romance languages, can often understand it. But he found it disorienting to try to answer my English with Spanish.
    By the way, Akismet is a superb spam filter for WordPress.

  75. The Sapir-Whorf-Dunning-Kruger effect: Which languages you speak affects how well you think you speak them.

  76. marie-lucie says:

    AS: he found it disorienting to try to answer my English with Spanish.
    I would find it very disorienting to have to answer an English speaker with French.

  77. What Francophile Canadians refuse to admit is that English was present and ALL citizens of eastern Canada would have, at minimum, acquired a working knowledge of it even in the late 18th century.
    English may have been “present,” whatever that means, but there are today many people in Quebec who speak only French. In 1996, the proportion of Quebec mother-tongue Francophones that claimed to know English was 34%. Even if many Quebecois don’t want to admit they know English, that’s a strikingly low figure.
    Gaelic was at one time widely spoken in Canada’s maritime provinces, and while I have no figures at hand, substantial numbers were probably monolingual. It was the mother tongue of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.

  78. More on bilingualism in Canada, from a week-old post on the official Language Portal of Canada:
    It’s an undeniable fact: bilingualism is moving backwards in Canada. According to a recent study by Statistics Canada, over the last decade, the number of Canadians able to hold a conversation in English and in French has declined for the first time in 50 years.
    During the past ten years, for the first time since 1961, the total population has actually increased faster than the bilingual population. The number of people who can express themselves in both English and French has therefore decreased from 17.7% to 17.5% over this period.
    What’s more, the situation within the country remains heterogeneous. Quebec differs from the rest of the country in being the only province to experience an increase in bilingualism: 42.6% of Quebec residents reported being able to hold a conversation in both languages in 2011, versus only 40.8% in 2001. In contrast, in other provinces, proportionately, we are seeing a progressive decline in bilingualism.
    Two main factors explain this situation. The first is structural: an increase in the number of immigrants has contributed to an increase in the non‑bilingual population in Canada, with the exception of Quebec. The second factor is cultural: it involves the decrease in the number of elementary and high school students who are exposed to French as a second language.
    [...] only 5% of high school graduates know how to speak French, and only 5% of those (or 0.25% of graduates) continue to use French on a daily basis, 3 to 5 years after high school.

  79. Hat, J.W. Brewer, Per incuriam, and others:
    As Paul Ogden showed, sometimes the francophobia becomes quite overt. Need I add that not a single one of the “claims” in his rant should be taken seriously? And I must ask all readers to show some indulgence: his beliefs on Quebec are quite utterly banal for an anglophone Canadian, and the culture death anglophone Canada is facing (which I wrote about earlier in this thread) makes it well-nigh impossible for the average anglo-Canadian to critically question anything that is specifically Anglo-Canadian, no matter how morally repulsive or absurd it is (or, in this case, both).
    He is correct, however, in his more recent message: PACE Hozho’s claim, at no point in history did all or a majority of the francophone inhabitants of what is today Québec speak English as a second language. As for the “Many Quebecois (who) don’t want to admit they know English”, I suspect they are not statistically significant. That they are significant in his mind is indubitable, but this of course has no bearing on reality.

  80. AHD on phobia: pho·bi·a (fō’bē-ə) n.
    1. A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous.
    2. A strong fear, dislike, or aversion.
    Etienne, please do not aver that I am possessed of francophobia. That I dislike much of Quebec’s collective behavior vis-a-vis the rest of Canada, yes, and that I have for many years I have been indifferent about visiting the province, yes. Had I grown up in Montreal rather than Toronto, perhaps I’d be more fearful of Quebec’s potential to disrupt my life. Had I been born earlier, perhaps the Conscription Crisis of 1917 or the Conscription Crisis of 1944 would weigh more heavily in my thinking.
    I would add that you are not competent to judge whether another person’s fear is justified. And that includes those tens of thousands of anglophone Montrealers who decamped for Toronto in the aftermath of the FLQ murders.
    Anglo-Canada has always had an indistinct culture when looked at from the U.S. and compared to that of Quebec. But here’s another take: For 20 years I’ve lived in Israel, where to the average Israeli I am indistinguishable from an American, a Brit (including Scots and Irishmen), an Australian, a New Zealander, or a South African (anglophone of course; the only kind here). In fact, there is a common name for us: we are all Anglo-Saxons. We view Israeli culture through an identical “Anglo-Saxon” lens, and see little but cosmetic differences among the countries of our birth.
    Hattery denizens of the non-Canadian persuasion may be interested in Two Solitudes.

  81. Hat, you’ve really got to do something about this spam!!! It’s got to the point where you check in to look at the latest comments, and all there is is spam.

  82. @Zabani:

    This is perhaps unrelated but nonetheless it’s a funny anecdote. Sweden, I think, is generally less tolerant than, say, the UK. Much less tolerant. Things you here from educated Swedes, usually older people but sometimes younger, would never be uttered in the UK.

    I fail to see the funny aspect of intolerance. (And, in any case, your comment is very far removed from my experience of a few years’ residence in both Sweden and the UK.)
    To go back to the linguistically-interesting point, I don’t think I’ve encountered any Swedes who were offended or annoyed by an obvious foreigner’s attempts at speaking the local language. It’s true that natives would try to switch to English as soon as I opened my mouth, but I was routinely encouraged when I tried to plow ahead in Swedish despite my lack of fluency.

  83. @Paul,
    The most obvious explanation for the decline in bilingualism in Anglo-Canada is that the descendents of the many French speakers who lived outside of Quebec 70-80 years ago quickly assimilated into the Anglo world. I don’t think Anglo Canadians have ever been particularly eager to learn French so I would discount the schools.

  84. J. W. Brewer says:

    Etienne is making me miss read.

  85. marie-lucie says:

    COme on, JWB!

  86. Alon -
    You were not a permanent resident, nor were you a refugee or someone from a Middle Eastern/African/Asian country (am I wrong?). There are numerous studies pointing to racism in the job market and other institutional and structural problems. If you flick through some of the Swedish papers you’ll see this talked about nearly on a weekly basis. Now, if you’re ‘European’ looking – that is, white – then you’ll have less problems. My experience is coming from having grown up there, lived there for many years and then moved to the UK and lived here for even longer. Just the other day a black man was nearly beaten to death -
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/13/toddler-racist-attack_n_3922851.html
    Now, this is not to say that the average Swede you encountered was a racist. Nor that they didn’t appreciate your attempts at speaking their language.
    Perhaps it wasn’t funny in a ‘ha-ha’ sense but because of the ridiculous lengths this man, my friend, went to in order to avoid the looks of disgust and the comments on the bus or in the local ‘centrum’. Now, again, this didn’t happen ALL the time, but the fact that it did is plain disgusting.
    The UK is simply 40-years ahead of Sweden when it comes to such things.
    In any case – this has ceased to be about linguistics so I’ll end it here.

  87. J.W. Brewer: May I gently remind you that it was you who had asked (September 19 11:02) why anglophone Canadians seem less apt at acquiring L2 French than Americans? I have given you an answer, with two historical authorities as evidence, with Paul Ogden subsequently demonstrating, with admirable timing (disclaimer: I have not paid him in any way), that the francophobia I pointed to is alive and kicking. I fear nobody here has subsequently given me any heuristically sound reason to doubt it.
    As I tell my brighter students, don’t explore sensitive topics unless you are certain you want the answer: Reality, like Einstein’s God, can be subtle but it is not malicious. But Reality is likewise under no obligation to fit into your presuppositions or to stay in your emotional comfort zone.
    Paul Ogden: when you’re at the bottom of a hole you’ve dug for yourself, not digging further is a good first step if you want to get out of the hole.
    Minus273: Marie-Lucie may have referred to the topic elsewhere, but it was I (bows head modestly)who on the thread of the March 7 entry “Languages in Monastyka” pointed to the sociolinguistic difficulty many French speakers in Southern France have with learning Italian, because it acoustically is too close to various “Patois”. It does indeed seem related to the phenomena involving French and Cree phonology I wrote about earlier on this thread: thank you for reminding me of it.
    Now, I am going to try to be a good researcher for whom Reality is more important than his ego: Let’s (temporarily!) assume that my explanation (poor French L2 learning in anglophone Canadaas as an outcome of francophobia) is wrong. It seems to me that there is an alternative. Tune in next week, and…
    Oh, all right, since you insist, I’ll present it now:
    Vanya: let’s assume for a moment that your hunch above is correct and that within the anglosphere the Irish indeed are (among) the worst at learning foreign languages.
    It seems to me that the Irish Republic and Anglophone Canada have in common a profound inferiority complex vis-à-vis a larger anglophone neighbor (Britain and the United States, respectively), which in both instances is leading to tangible acculturation (it is my understanding that, for example, as a result of convergence, the English now spoken in Dublin is in many respects closer to British English than to rural Hiberno-English, with some young educated Dubliners being nearly indistinguishable, linguistically, from Londoners of the same class and generation).
    So: Could this common sociolinguistic factor be the common denominator for foreign language learning difficulties too? Could a strong insecurity about the worth of one’s own local linguistic and cultural norms, with a resulting single-minded obsession towards following a neighboring country’s, make it psychologically more difficult to take the larger step and examine a wholly different language? In Anglophone Canada and the Irish Republic alike?
    Thoughts, anyone?

  88. Over the last decades interest in the arts as a subject of study has declined pretty much throughout the anglosphere and perhaps beyond, paralleled by a rise in business and to some extent science studies. This could be a factor in anglophone Canadians’ lessened interest/accomplishments in learning French. Too, French is not the prestige language of diplomacy and the arts as it was when I studied it. Back then, the start of French language study was a sign you were entering a wider, more cosmopolitan world.
    The Canadian government, through its Statistics Canada agency, has published a series of documents detailing the use of English, French and other languages in the country. They are based on national censuses conducted every five years. One can, I presume, torture the numbers until they say anything you want, but it seems that French use at home is declining among mother-tongue francophones.
    The document 2011 Census of Population: Linguistic Characteristics of Canadians notes that “outside Quebec, 43% of the population with French only as a mother tongue reported speaking English most often at home.” Further, “(i)n Quebec, the proportion of the population that reported speaking only French at home declined from 75.1% to 72.8% between 2006 and 2011. This decrease is quite similar to the one recorded between 2001 and 2006.”
    The document French and the francophonie in Canada notes that “French was the mother tongue of 25.7% of the population in 1981, and 21.7% of the population 30 years later. There was a similar decline in French as the language spoken most often at home: 24.6% of the population in 1981, compared with 21.0% of the population in 2011 . . . In the last 30 years, between 1981 and 2011, the Canadian population has increased nearly 38%. By comparison, the population whose mother tongue is French grew 16%.”
    Lots more at Study: The evolution of English-French bilingualism in Canada from 1961 to 2011.
    Francophilia: My car is a Citroen; my previous voiture was a Peugeot.

  89. J. W. Brewer says:

    I don’t find this a particularly sensitive topic. I mean, come on, it’s Canadian history. Blah blah blah, Louis Riel. Blah blah blah, Social Credit. Blah blah blah, Newfoundland joins the Confederation. Blah blah blah, Quebecois nationalism. I really have no emotional comfort zone boundaries on issues like that. I certainly have zero prior emotional commitment to thinking of Anglo-Canadians as nice fair-minded pacifist egalitarians who couldn’t possibly be mean to anyone. Pro hockey would have been a lot more boring when I was a kid if there hadn’t been exceptions to that stereotype, with many of those exceptions fortunately playing for the Flyers.

  90. i like people missing me, even though it seems like it is supposed to be something not very bon homme, come il faut or something, someone reminding people of me
    i see Paul Ogden values his anglo roots and Etienne equally cherishes his francophone values too, both seem good qualities to me cz without valuing what is self one can’t respect others
    if they confront each other, still they are equal opponents, in terms of relative power, not like a giant vs a troll of course as people seem to imply me being such a nationalist, cz i consider myself internationalist for some reason, i always say consider the power first, who is powerful and who is powerless, relatively, and stand maybe for the less fortunate ones
    just be careful, Zabani, it is not considered a good manners on here this blog and not only here of course if you will keep accusing the whatever fairer white race nation of racism, soon people would perhaps start treating the one talking that talk like a common troll,
    spoken out of own experience, you understand

  91. the powerful, the powerless

  92. Read:
    I was only referring to a trend which is widely documented in Sweden, and for that matter many other places in Europe. I wish I were wrong, but, sadly, I don’t think I am.

  93. yes, i know, the world is not a just and fair place if in the most liberal of liberals Scandinavian countries bigotry is becoming that widespread, human nature, what to do, any closer contact always brings out some or other misunderstanding and people basically dont like to be reminded of whatever injustice, believe my pretty longish “troll” experience on the blogs, liberal blogs btw, cz obvious white suprematist or other politically right blogs i dont read
    so, yes, it’s better to stick to the language topics

  94. Anglo-Canada has always had an indistinct culture when looked at from the U.S.
    ‘Sfunny. I’ve been living in the U.S. my whole life (admittedly, more than half of it in New York City), and Anglo-Canadians have always looked like a distinct culture to me. Granted, Canadians can pass for Americans (hence the tripartite Hidden Canadian test), but when they’re not passing, they come across to me as representatives of an accessible but different civilization, people from a place where they do things differently. (Granted, sometimes the rest of the U.S. looks like that to me too.) Fortunately, passing for American is not as perilous, when detected, as passing for white would be.
    I met my first Anglo-Canadian when I was seven. I remember saying to my mother “He’s different”, though I no longer remember exactly why I thought so; I don’t think I was sensitive to accents that young. My mother asked me “Is he black?” (understandable, since his name was “Freeman”). “No”, I said.
    I would add that you are not competent to judge whether another person’s fear is justified.
    How is anyone to judge that? Certainly not the persons themselves. Only after something bad happens do we know whether we were right to fear it.

  95. Frank Gibbons says:

    Very interesting thread. I’m know I’m late to the game here – read this on my phone at the weekend, but found it impossible to respond, so here I am….
    I’m a little surprised that nobody has raised ideas that I’ve come across in the writings of Nancy Dorian, who spent much of her career learning a dying dialect of Scottish Gaelic, then documenting its decline. I believe her work may be one of the most comprehensive studies of the processes that languages go through as they die out. I’m sure many of you know more about her work than I do.
    But the idea I’m referring to is one she realised after she moved to a bilingual village. She describes several occasions in which she entered an unfamiliar shop, found the shopkeeper and customers speaking Gaelic and tried to join their conversation but found they would respond in English. She would respond in her fluent Gaelic, they would reply in English again. Quite a strange situation.
    Until she realised that every language has a purpose. You can ask what a language is “for”, and if you speak more than one, the answer will be different for each one. Maybe one is for work, and one for home; one for business, the other for government; one for the kitchen, the other for the dining room; one for your parents, the other for your siblings and friends; etc. Often these rules are internalized unconsciously; the speakers may not be aware of them as a conscious decision, but certainly feel discomfort when they are broken.
    She realised that what was happening with Gaelic in these isolated communities – the language was dying there, under pressure from English – was that Gaelic was “for” talking with people you knew. It was NOT “for” talking with strangers. I don’t know this to be the case, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the same held true for other non-endangered-but-smaller languages, such as Dutch, Swedish, etc. There could be a feeling that those languages are not “for” talking with foreigners – that’s what English is “for”.

  96. Francophilia: My car is a Citroen; my previous voiture was a Peugeot.
    In New Hampshire where I grew up it was not uncommon for “Francophiles” to be nasty bigots towards Quebecois. My Aunt spoke excellent French, had lived in Provence, and was always haughtily dismissive towards Quebecois. Our French lessons in high school only focused on standard French, Guy de Maupassant and French cafes, despite the fact that we still had a functioning Quebec-language church in our town, and actual towns with French newspapers and road-signs were only a two hour drive away. I think half the kids in my French class would have been surprised to learn that Quebecois is actually a perfectly expressive dialect of French and not a degraded working class pidgin. From what I have heard attitudes in Ontario, Anglo-Montreal and the Townships towards Quebec culture were (are?), if anything, even nastier.

  97. I’m a little surprised that nobody has raised ideas that I’ve come across in the writings of Nancy Dorian, who spent much of her career learning a dying dialect of Scottish Gaelic, then documenting its decline. I believe her work may be one of the most comprehensive studies of the processes that languages go through as they die out. I’m sure many of you know more about her work than I do.
    I for one had never heard of her, and I thank you very much for your informative and thought-provoking comment.

  98. J. W. Brewer says:

    I think Vanya has established that “Francophobia” is an unhelpful label for dislike for, or disdain toward, Quebecois, much as “Anglophobia” would be an unhelpful label for similarly negative attitudes toward Australians. The features of modern French culture that give “Frenchness” some continuing cachet and prestige among college-town-poseur Anglophones (haute couture, haute cuisine, post-structuralism, pornography, etc.) do not really relate to Quebecois culture. When I started taking German way back in junior high school, we were probably no more than a two-hour drive from some of the parts of Pennsylvania where non-prestige dialects of German were still used by some of the indigenes, but we certainly were not encouraged to think that that had anything whatsoever to do with what we were studying in German class. And that’s not because of an ugly strain of bigotry against the Amish or other Pennsylvania Dutch in Middle-Atlantic “English” culture (much less resentment of their current political attitudes toward us) — it’s because there was a total disconnect between the stuff we associated with those people (roadside attractions, hex signs on barns, shoofly pie, and lots of quaint wholesome rural kitsch) and whatever Euro-cultural-prestige associations German as a school-learned L2 had for us.

  99. marie-lucie says:

    Nancy Dorian is the one who coined the phrase language death, the title of her well-known book on a specific Scottish Gaelic dialect. I read this book a number of years ago and was quite impressed by it. I felt that there was only one thing missing: she described the experiences of those speakers who no longer spoke their language, and of the young people whose family members refused to let them learn it, but from an outsider’s point of view, while I understood those people’s experiences (especially the second group) as I had witnessed some of them in my Occitan-speaking older relatives and felt the younger people’s deep-seated feelings myself.

  100. I wish to second Marie-Lucie’s praise of Nancy Dorian’s work, including her caveat: in my case this is because my mother’s family migrated to Canada and neither I nor anyone else of the Canadian-born generation were taught the language of the “old country”, and the feeling of loss Marie-Lucie describes sounds quite familiar. I do not doubt that this background of mine played some role in my interest in languages…
    Nancy Dorian did not just coin the term “Language Death”, she was also the first to show that the type of language change that accompanies linguistic obsolescence involves more than just the direct impact of the encroaching language. For example, in the Gaelic varieties she worked on the (singular) genitive case was lost even as the vocalive case lived on, which of course is the exact opposite of what we would expect if English influence (since English has a genitive but no vocative case) was the only factor.
    Unfortunately this discovery is all too often ignored by present-day researchers who examine minority/immigrant languages: I’ve lost count, for example, of the number of studies I have seen on case marking in transplanted (and obsolescent) varieties of German in North America, which confidently state that reduction of case-marking morphology is due to the influence of English (even when, in some German varieties of North America, the genitive case is one of the first to be wholly lost). The fact that German varieties undergoing obsolescence in Russia show very similar reduction in case-marking morphology shows that the direct impact of the dominant language is far from being the whole story…

  101. Anglo-Canadians have always looked like a distinct culture to me [...] they come across to me as representatives of an accessible but different civilization
    Distinct culture. Hmm. OK, maybe. Different civilization. Really? Heady brew, that. And all while using the same language to communicate. Whatever word should we use to denote the differences between, say, Greenland Inuit and Madagascar Malagasay? As we seem unable to draw clear lines between dialects and languages, I submit a similar issue obtains with respect to cultures and civilizations. And societies to boot. So just as we have the notion Sprachbund maybe we need the parallel notion Kulturbund.
    In a nutshell, I’d say two major differences between Anglo-Canadian and American culture lie in attitudes towards gun control and government healthcare plans. In this regard Anglo-Canadians are much more like Europeans. As well, Americans are more broadly entrepreneurial and less inclined to play nice-guy than the typical Anglo-Canadian (I can’t speak here for French-Canadians). Americans seem less aware that there’s a big world out there that isn’t American (or perhaps they’re just less interested in it).
    A generation ago Canada went over to the metric system. So while in the U.S. people buy a pound of butter, in Canada they buy 454 grams. That’s because Canada buys its butter-molding equipment from the States. Paper is still produced to conventional American sizes (e.g., 8.5 x 11) because it’s too expensive to produce to metric sizes given the small size of the domestic market and the fact that so much of Canada’s paper production is exported to the U.S. And though the U.S. military long ago went metric, as did all American natural-sciences research, it would seem that most Americans still don’t understand the utility of the metric system and may even consider using it unpatriotic.

  102. Considering the amount of spam, and since future readers of this thread may be interested, I do hereby and forthwith (without further ado or artifice) most willingly and enthusiastically supply the aforementioned references:
    The reference to the loyalists is from Mason Wade, THE FRENCH-CANADIANS 1760-1945. Toronto, 1955, p.93.
    On the geopolitics of the immediate aftermath of the British conquest of New France and the American revolution, see the introductory chapter in Dyer, Gwynne and Tina Viljoen, 1990. THE DEFENCE OF CANADA: IN THE ARMS OF THE EMPIRE, 1760-1939.
    On the case of a Native child adopted into a white family and who as a result was incapable of pronouncing Cree as an adult:
    Proulx, Paul. 1986. “Anxiety Management in Native language Instruction”. In: Cowan, William. PAPERS OF THE 17TH ALGONQUIAN CONFERENCE. Ottawa, Carleton University. pp. 279-286 (The story of the individual in question, “Johnny” (a pseudonym of course) is on pages 279-280).
    I hope this will be of use to some reader(s) of this thread.

  103. it would seem that most Americans still don’t understand the utility of the metric system and may even consider using it unpatriotic.
    Or they may just not consider the tradeoff worthwhile, considering the considerable investment in the existing system (on both the economic and personal levels). I’m no flag-waving patriot, but I do get tired of the yuk-yuk-dumb-Americans attitudes that so easily arise in these discussions. (Not accusing you of such attitudes, obviously, but “don’t understand the utility … and may even consider using it unpatriotic” reminded me of them.)

  104. J. W. Brewer says:

    The metric system is the Esperanto of weights and measures, except that rather than being invented by impractical utopians it was invented by bloodthirsty Jacobins. When I was a boy, trips to Canada were an opportunity to learn that imperial gallons were similar to but not identical to our gallons. It was like coming upon a different dialect of the same language. If Quebecois nationalists were more interesting, they would demand a revival of the distinctive ancien regime French weights and measures once used in New France but destroyed post-1789 in the quondam mother country.

  105. @Etienne
    Vanya: let’s assume for a moment that your hunch above is correct and that within the anglosphere the Irish indeed are (among) the worst at learning foreign languages
    The opposite could equally well be the case, as far as anybody seems to know, so this really can’t be assumed for any useful purpose.
    It seems to me that the Irish Republic and Anglophone Canada have in common a profound inferiority complex vis-à-vis a larger anglophone neighbor (Britain and the United States, respectively), which in both instances is leading to tangible acculturation
    It’s a novel comparison – my impression was that Ireland had more in common with Francophone Canada (apart from the obvious).
    it is my understanding that, for example, as a result of convergence, the English now spoken in Dublin is in many respects closer to British English than to rural Hiberno-English, with some young educated Dubliners being nearly indistinguishable, linguistically, from Londoners of the same class and generation
    Even the premise seems wrong here: Dublin was historically quite distinct, linguistically and otherwise, from the rest of the country and if anything the two have been coming closer together, not drifting apart. I have yet to encounter any Dubliners not perfectly distinguishable from their London counterparts.
    By the way, under the 1998 peace settlement the British formally decommissioned the FYROM-esque expression “Irish Republic” (which properly refers to the revolutionary entity dissolved in 1922) so feel free to use “Ireland” (or “the Republic of” in the unlikely event you find some isogloss running along the border)

  106. Or they may just not consider the tradeoff worthwhile
    Excellent point. And wise to remember that though the metric system predominates around the world, legacy systems are still influential in lots of places. Hybrid stuff happens too: Israel is metric, but its land measurement system is still partially based on the Ottoman dunam. Pipe measurements are in צול / tsoll, taken from German Zoll (inch). Use of cubits receded with the floodwaters . . .

  107. marie-lucie says:

    the metric system …unpatriotic
    I remember reading something a while ago about the Imperial system being part of American culture and championing the metric system would be yet another sign of the [insert appropriate word here] conspiracy to destroy America.
    In practice both systems are used in Canada, because it was too difficult to get people used to the metric system in buying food and a few other things. Labels on food packages differ though in which units they use, but most of the packages of loose food (eg cereal) or liquids are in metric units or in both kinds. I had not noticed that butter came in 454g packages, or if I did I did not wonder why, thenks PO for the explanation.
    Sometimes there are still laughable mistakes in conversion: a few days ago I was looking at a site selling various items online, one of them a long skirt for which the vertical dimension (waist to ankles) was given as “36 cm = 14.5 inches”! this length might have fit a three-year-old, perhaps. Fortunately there was a picture of a model wearing the skirt, which did come down to her ankles: of course it was 36 inches long, = 90 cm.

  108. J. W. Brewer says:

    We of course don’t call it the “Imperial” system in the U.S., on account of having opted out of that particular Empire rather early on (out of inter alia a rather ironic fear we might be treated like the Quebecois), plus the fact that “imperial” as to pints/quarts/gallons is a signal of being on the other side of a significant division between the U.S. dialect and the U.K./Commonwealth dialect. (Some bars in the U.S. do sell beer by the imperial pint, but since that’s larger than the U.S. pint, the customers are apparently cosmopolitan enough not to object. OTOH, I was irked last winter by the suspiciously small size of a bottle of stout imported from Jamaica, until I figured out that the seemingly arbitrary 284 ml was half an imperial pint.)
    As happens in other areas of language, the distinctiveness of the U.S. gallon and its component parts reflects an older English usage that subsequently became obsolete in BrEng.

  109. Hat: Nancy Dorian has been mentioned in LH comments twice: by Marie-Lucie in “The Staying Power of Guaraní and by me in “Languages in Russia”. The latter links to this paper about her experiences appearing on Gaelic-language TV using a language she speaks only at the intimate-conversation level. She makes exactly the point that m-l mentions: “My real topic is the yawning gulf between the simplicity of assessing a language-related problem from the outside as a scholar studying a language, and the complexity of confronting the problem from the inside as a speaker using the language.”
    Here are some excerpts:

    [At] the point where the BBC film crew was about to arrive at my house in Maine [...] I stopped being a scholar with a strong concern for the future of small local languages and became a person who was about to stand in front of a TV camera and speak for all and sundry to hear. I was of course a scholar, literate and well educated, but where Scottish Gaelic was concerned I happened to be a speaker of a non-standard dialect WAY out of line with anything to be found in books or dictionaries or newspapers or heard on the radio, let alone on television. Like all my fisherfolk friends, I knew perfectly well that my form of Gaelic was looked down on, and suddenly all the loanwords I was going to need to use — for lack of any native Gaelic terms in the fisherfolk dialect — became very awkward: I was about to disgrace myself and my Gaelic in front of a whole lot of people.
    [...]
    Instead of talking to my long-standing Embo friends about their health, or local developments like new houses going up in the village, or past village lifeways like how potatoes were stored for winter consumption, suddenly I was talking to a man I’d never previously met, whose dialect I didn’t understand, and thru him to a body of listeners whom I never would meet, all of whom spoke dialects that were unintelligible to me, about large issues like what factors cause minority-language speakers to shift to another language and why childhood language acquisition is so crucial to language maintenance. These aren’t things I usually talk about in East Sutherland Gaelic, to put it mildly, and neither are they things for which East Sutherland fisherfolk Gaelic makes a lot of terminology available.
    [...]
    Until I faced the TV camera armed only with East Sutherland fisherfolk Gaelic, my take on this sort of situation was about as realistic as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign against the use of drugs. I thought minority-language supporters should “Just Say Yes”: if they wanted to create a future for their languages, they should just make up their minds to use their languages all the time and get busy and do it.
    What I didn’t reckon with is the personal difficulty of moving a private-sphere language, with all its homely, intimate aspects, into the public sphere where it seems to fit very poorly and feels inappropriate. And along with that essentially functional problem comes the additional problem that very small minority-group languages are often stigmatized, so that their speakers are braving all sorts of associations with backwardness and poverty when they speak their languages in public. And last but not least there’s the problem of limited up-to-date lexicon and the need to press a lot of borrowings into service in order to stretch the hearth-and-home language into new contexts of use.

    (I had trouble posting this because the string “plexity” is on the banned list: typing “plex<b></b>ity” solves that problem, however.)

  110. genitive case is one of the first to be wholly lost
    It’s essentially dead in Germany itself, except in the written language. Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod.
    distinct culture [...] different civilization
    That was mere elegant variation. I consider a civilization to be a type of culture, so if two societies have distinct cultures and are both civilizations, then they a fortiori are different civilizations. (Needless to say, a culture is none the better or worse for not being a civilization.)
    gun control and government healthcare
    Indeed. See my link above to the Zompist Canadian Culture Test.
    bloodthirsty Jacobins
    Hardly. There were so many different systems in pre-revolutionary France that there was total chaos. The main person responsible for the creation of the metric system was the Marquis de Condorcet, a liberal philosopher, mathematician, and inventor of the Condorcet method of voting. Politically he was a Girondist who died in a Jacobin prison, possibly by suicide. Other people who devised decimal-based measurement systems were Thomas Jefferson (who missed the idea of the metric prefixes and so wound up with lots of different names, of which cent, dime, dollar are the survivors) and proto-conlanger John Wilkins. See “History of the metric system” at WP.
    Irish Republic
    One might still call it the Irish republic, since it is at present the only republic on the island of Ireland.
    I remember reading something a while ago about the Imperial system being part of American culture
    Except, of course, that system we use in the U.S. is an older snapshot of the (current) Imperial system, and shouldn’t be called “Imperial” at all. Our gallon is still 16 fluid ounces rather than 20 (due to drift, the fluid ounces in question are slightly different, being 29.6 ml and 28.4 ml respectively), and a hundredweight is still 100 pounds rather than 112 (and consequently a ton, or “short ton”, is 2000 pounds = 907 kg rather than the 2240-pound “long ton” = 1016 kg).
    Rules of thumb for quick conversions:
    To convert meters to yards, add 10%
    To convert liters to U.S. quarts (1/4 U.S gallon), add 10%.
    To convert kilos to pounds, double and add 10%
    2 inches = 5 cm

  111. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @Zabani:

    You were not a permanent resident, nor were you a refugee or someone from a Middle Eastern/African/Asian country

    I was as permanent a resident as you can be while in the academic job market, i.e., I had a fixed-term contract as a postdoc. And, while I’m ethnically Ashkenazi and can pass for European, I’m a citizen of a Third-World country.
    So, to go with the racist trope, I was actually stealing the locals’ jobs.

    There are numerous studies pointing to racism in the job market and other institutional and structural problems.

    I’m not claiming Sweden is racism-free. The fact that Sverigedemokraterna have landed seats in the Riksdag should disabuse anyone of that notion. But I found it consistently less racist than any other European country in which I’ve resided, and certainly less than the UK (where I live now).
    To bring this back vaguely on topic, I think the institutional attitudes towards people who have difficulty speaking the local language do show a difference. In Sweden, it’s easy to find materials in lättsvenska, from simplified newspapers (e.g., Åtta sidor) to voting instructions. I haven’t seen any comparable initiatives in the UK.

  112. J. W. Brewer says:

    Vaguely relevant to the what-is-which-language-FOR point: when Serbian academics play practical jokes on credulous Romanian publishers, the appropriate language is apparently English: http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/a-serbian-sokal-authors-spoof-pub-with-ron-jeremy-and-michael-jackson-references/
    Perhaps East Sutherland fisherfolk Gaelic lacks the lexical resources for this sort of task?

  113. Alon -
    For both our sakes, I hope I’m wrong. However, I hardly think the groves of academe give an individual adequate exposure or awareness. These things are noticed when one goes to school there, grows up with Swedish people, is embedded in the country and understands the culture. This takes significantly longer than a year or even two. Certain trends in discrimination tend to be invisible to the locals, unfortunately. Now, I think things have improved a lot and there is more of an awareness of such issues than, say, the 80s or 90s, but they still lag behind.
    Well, here in London, where I live, there are translation services available in numerous languages; anything from brochures to interpreters, paid for by the state. I’ve seen this in action numerous times, at various government offices. Though, it should be said that the Conservatives are aiming to cut the services.
    Recently, there’s been some news about Newham Council, which has the lowest white population in the UK, cutting similar services and even removing foreign language newspapers in libraries to, supposedly, promote ‘integration’ – whatever that is supposed to mean.
    I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I don’t claim that there is some racist conspiracy in Sweden. My point was only that I think it’s behind the UK in terms of tolerance (yes, I’m aware it’s a vague term). I know that it’s well-ahead of other countries in Europe, even its own neighbour Denmark.

  114. Per incuriam: I believe the reference to some young Dubliners’ accents being nearly indistinguishable from young Londoners’ is an anecdote I got from John Wells’ ACCENTS OF ENGLISH. Based on what you say, I wonder whether these young Dubliners might not have been adjusting their accents because of his (John Wells’) presence. Does anyone else have any take on this?
    And you are quite correct, Ireland and Quebec do have a great deal in common: in my experience the Irish are the people who within the anglosphere seem to have the easiest time understanding Quebec. Considering the similarities of their histories this is unsurprising, of course.

  115. Alon Lischinsky says:

    @Zabani:

    I hardly think the groves of academe give an individual adequate exposure or awareness

    certainly not. But neither do the underground shafts of Kiruna or the Million Programme buildings in Rinkeby; Sweden is not a monolithic entity, and any description has to accommodate its diversity.
    In any case, at this point it seems clear our perceptions are different to a degree that is unlikely to be solved by discussing; I’m happy to agree to disagree.

    in London, where I live, there are translation services available in numerous languages; anything from brochures to interpreters, paid for by the state

    Offering foreign-language services doesn’t seem to me the same as producing simplified-language materials. The first firmly reinforces the distinction between natives and migrants, while the second attempts to bridge it.

  116. I think the problem there is that there are no certified translators from Swedish to Simplified Swedish, so whenever legal or technical requirements are relevant, it’s hard to know where meaning is being lost. Of course, the reverse is also true:

    A New York plumber wrote the National Bureau of Standards that he had found hydrochloric acid fine for cleaning drains, and was it harmless? Washington replied: “The efficacy of hydrochloric acid is indisputable, but the chlorine residue is incompatible with metallic permanence.”
    The plumber wrote back that he was mighty glad the Bureau agreed with him. The Bureau replied with a note of alarm: “We cannot assume responsibility for the production of toxic and noxious residue with hydrochloric acid, and suggest that you use an alternate procedure.” The plumber was happy to learn that the Bureau still agreed with him.
    Whereupon Washington exploded: “Don’t use hydrochloric acid: it eats hell out of the pipes!”

  117. marie-lucie says:

    Alon: Offering foreign-language services doesn’t seem to me the same as producing simplified-language materials. The first firmly reinforces the distinction between natives and migrants, while the second attempts to bridge it.
    Foreign-language services for immigrants are indispensable for new arrivals in order for them to learn about many things they will need to know about, such as dealing with housing, utilities, schools, medical services, police, and many other things that the natives take for granted. These services usually also include language courses for learning the language of the country, which most immigrants want to do. So they are a bridge between natives and migrants, although not a direct one. Their existence does not preclude (and may in fact actually include) simplified written materials such as specially written newspapers, which however would not be accessible to freshly arrived migrants, especially those who are illiterate in their own language or used to a different writing system.

  118. Alon -
    Thank you for the civilised exchange.

  119. ) I’m in Istanbul at the moment, must visit the local Irish pub with my Turkish-speaking Azeri wife, will report from the field. :)

    OK; checked two Irish pubs here in Istanbul, first had no Irish, second had a teacher in a French lycée who has been here for eleven years and has good Turkish, and a guy who works in tourism who’s been here for a year who has OK Turkish, as evaluated by my wife. Very far from a scientific survey, but about what I expected.

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