Beloved Gym Bubbe: Translanguaging.

Sharon Avni (an applied linguist at CUNY) writes for the Jerusalem Post:

Before I had even managed to settle down for my first Zoom meeting on Monday morning, I had already received several messages from friends and colleagues alerting me to the clip of Effie Hertzke, an 81-year-old woman being interviewed on Israeli television after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine. Bedecked with large dangling earrings, a shirt with “BADGIRLS” emblazoned across the front, and a full face of makeup, Hertzke chatted — in a mixture of Hebrew and English — with seasoned journalist Rafi Reshef while walking on the treadmill at her local gym in Ramat Gan. […]

Watching this clip from my home in New Jersey, where gym attendance is severely constrained because of the pandemic, I could appreciate Hertzke’s excitement about being back on the treadmill. But as a sociolinguist who studies Americans and their use of modern Hebrew, I was even more struck by the characteristics of the conversation between Hertzke and Reshef, as well as by the outpouring of attention in the Jewish press and in social media that her discourse attracted. When Reshef asks “ve’ech hakosher” (and what kind of shape are you in), and Hertzke responds “Oh my god! Ata rotse lirot et ha muscles sheli?” (Do you want to see my muscles), she is engaged in what linguists call translanguaging.

Coming out of bilingual education scholarship, translanguaging describes the ways that bilinguals, multilinguals and indeed all users of language use all available linguistic resources to communicate effectively with others. Instead of viewing bilingualism as strictly separated languages in the individual’s mind, translanguaging approaches language in a more dynamic way, seeing it as the natural and authentic way in which people move fluidly between languages — sometimes, as with Hertzke, within the same sentence.

What makes Hertzke’s translanguaging particularly noteworthy is that she clearly has strong Hebrew skills. She effortlessly recalls, “Ani avadti ad gil shmonim bishvil maskoret (I worked until the age of 80 for a salary) and then my children said, ‘Ma, maspeek kvar’” (enough already). Hertzke’s translanguaging does not cause a communicative breakdown. In fact, it’s what allows her feisty personality to shine. The banter between the two is seamless, and Reshef responds to Hertzke’s utterances without missing a beat, showing any signs of misunderstanding or feeling the need to translate for his audience.

She goes on to discuss comments have people made about Hertzke’s American accent and points out that “societies assume there is one way of speaking correctly, so when people hear an accent, they not only hear a different form of pronunciation, but may also make judgments about the speaker’s worth and place in society”; I like her conclusion:

Hertzke owns her multilingualism, and her translanguaging celebrates the idiosyncratic beauty of both of her languages, as well as her national identities. Ownership of who we are and how we put it out into the world — now that is a linguistic achievement we should all be proud of.

Thanks, Dmitry!


  1. The clip is really remarkable to me. Not because of the occasional English, but because of the wide disparity of her Hebrew skills in various domains. The segmental phonology is almost purely American English: that is to say, an accent that’s almost painful to listen to; the retroflex r’s and the diphthongs in particular are pure cartoon American Hebrew. On the other hand the intonation patterns are perfect as far as I can tell. She’s talking a bit slowly and deliberately, but that could be because she’s on video and on a treadmill. There are a few grammatical errors, but some could pass as colloquialisms, and if you wrote down what she said, I wouldn’t guess that it didn’t come from a native speaker, other than the occasional English code-switching.

    Ed.: The deliberate speech is not because of the treadmill. There’s a followup conversation from her armchair at home, where she talks in the same manner (and urges the interviewer, Rafi Reshef, to smile more).

  2. marie-lucie says

    Y, you use the word code-switching, which I would also use for this type of bilingual speech. I had never heard of translanguaging. Is this word the new technical one? or am I missing something crucial?

  3. Well, the article says “translanguaging describes the ways that bilinguals, multilinguals and indeed all users of language use all available linguistic resources to communicate effectively with others,” which makes me think it’s intended to be more general than “code-switching,” which means (as far as I know) just switching between two different languages or registers.

  4. Dmitry Pruss says

    … французского с нижегородским…

  5. More of that quote from Griboedov’s endlessly quotable play here in 2013.

  6. I have to admit, I have yet to figure out what the advantage is of relabelling this kind of thing as “translanguaging”. There are some types of bilingual discourse that intermesh too much to label given sections as belonging to one language of the other, but this one looks like classic CS, with every element clearly assignable to one or the other discrete language.

  7. marie-lucie says

    Thanks, Lameen. That’s the way I see it too.

  8. There is inherent comedy in an unexpected mismatch of accents and identities. Mel Brooks’s Yiddish-speaking Indians is a purposeful example of this. Another Israeli example popular right now are Shauli and Irena, two recurrent characters in the popular TV program Eretz Nehederet (‘Wonderful Country’). Shauli and Irena are working class types, kind of crass and not too bright. Irena, in particular, is a Russian immigrant, who speaks with a heavy Russian accent (not too consistent to my ear), but seasons her speech heavy-handedly with slang, particularly slang associated with lower-class Sephardi and Mizrahi (Middle Eastern) Jews. The mismatch is obvious and funny, and realistic. The great wave of immigration from the former USSR in the 1990s included a great deal of people not recognized as Jews (such as children of non-Jewish mothers) and for a long time were marginalized societally, along with Mizrahi Jews, and were shunted to the same towns. It is not hard to see how an immigrant would assimilate to this variety of speech.

  9. Dmitry Pruss says

    I always suspected that having some fun with an American accent may be all sunny smiles, but trade it to a Russian accent and you’d get a crude comedy. The same melting pot, a different flavor of the stew?

  10. My experience of speaking Hebrew is a year volunteering on a kibbutz in 1978. Effie’s accent is … ouch! How does the interviewer keep a straight face?

    @Y are you saying this is typical of Americans who’ve emigrated to Israel?

    The kibbutz I was on had many West Coast Americans, who emigrated after the war, to get away from the caricature of Jews as Dentists and Bankers. None of them gave me such Ouch!, although I could hear their accent, as compared with the youngsters who’d grown up in the Beth Yeladim.

  11. Читатель ждёт уж рифмы роза.

    I have to admit, I have yet to figure out what the advantage is of relabelling this kind of thing as “translanguaging”. There are some types of bilingual discourse that intermesh too much to label given sections as belonging to one language of the other, but this one looks like classic CS, with every element clearly assignable to one or the other discrete language.

    I suspect it may have originated from a different school and be used differently without being exactly contrasted to CS.

  12. I was glad to find a new term here (whatever it means:)). This is why:

    I see the term “code-switch” in a very specific context: a very formal syntactical/ morphological study at the level of utterances. This is because I read literature of this sort, of course. Even though this literature is often called “sociolinguistics” it is interested in very classical “grammar”. The assumptions are:

    1. there is a thing that we can call
    *my-Russian grammar (supposedly identical to any Russian)
    2. and there is a thing
    *my-Klingon grammar (supposedly identical to any Klingon)
    3. we are trying to find formal patterns and rules in syntactical and morphological embedding of elements of *m-Rg in *m-Kg.

    It is a very limited treatment.

    Meanwhile when I hear “code-switching” from someone interested in languages rather than linguistics (an enthusiastic lanaguge learner: these people often know the term) I hear things like: “I love to code-switch!” or “I code-switch a lot“.

    And it does feel as polysemy to me (I caught myself thinking about this). She is speaking of what she is doing to langauge.

  13. AntC: most Americans who immigrate to Israel learn better pronunciation pretty soon, like any immigrants. This accent is kind of extreme.

    Dmitry: The American accent case is an actual sunny-spirited old lady (and inappropriately flirtatious, too). The Russian accent case is a character in a satirical comedy. Underneath it all, American immigrants to Israel are typically wealthier, 90s ex-Soviet immigrants typically poorer.

  14. 90s ex-Soviet immigrants typically poorer

    A relative and his wife had to flee from Bender and settled in Tiberias. Naturally, they took with themselves only what they could carry.

  15. Half of the immigrants to Israel carry a violin, another half doesn’t carry anything, they are pianists.

  16. Well, whistles and clubs in the case of my relatives—both were police officers.

  17. An article about painter Zoya Cherkassky-Nnadi. She’s wonderful. She’s like the George Grosz of the Russian immigrant community in Israel (Ukrainian in her case).

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    The horrid term “translanguaging” appears to be calqued from Welsh (yes, really):

    It dates from the 1980’s, so I suppose it may actually antedate “code-switching.”

  19. horrid
    For those of us, who cislanguage.

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    “Translanguaging” seems to refer to the whole complex of regular use of more than one language in a particular social context (for example, diglossia in the Arabic mode, obligate linguistic exogamy of the Vaupés type, or parents with different mother tongues each using their own L1 in speaking to their children), so that code-switching is only one possible manifestation of it (and by no means a necessary one, at that.)

    Avni’s use of “translanguaging” rather than “code-switching” in this particular case is therefore somewhat imprecise.

    Judging by the WP article (which comprises all I know about the topic), the term was invented as a “hooray” word in specifically educational contexts to counter the implication that any of the forms of speech involved were in any way inferior (hence the po-faced claim that it excludes classic diglossia, because “hierarchy.”)

  21. Transalanguaging from Google translate:

    trawsieithu => trans-langu-ir-ovanie (my hyphenation)

  22. Judging by the WP article (which comprises all I know about the topic), the term was invented as a “hooray” word in specifically educational contexts to counter the implication that any of the forms of speech involved were in any way inferior

    That corresponds to my impressions. Compare this interview:

    Q: The linguistic phenomena mentioned in the previous question have been studied by researchers for more than 60 years. What are the benefits of replacing them with “translanguaging” when the behavior is clearly the same?

    A: The behavior may look to be the same from the external social perspective, from a perspective that doesn’t question why named languages and language hierarchies exist or the relationship between language and power. But seen from the internal perspective of the bilingual speaker, translanguaging behavior is clearly different. Translanguaging legitimizes the fluid language practices with which bilinguals operate. It posits that bilinguals have a much more complex and expanded repertoire than monolinguals. Bilingual speakers then appropriate all their linguistic features, no matter their social standing, instead of categorizing them as belonging to one national group or another to which they may not belong.

    The point seems to be to “legitimize fluid language practices”, rather than to bring new insights.

    I do get the idea of rejecting “named languages”, insofar as such folk categories can be very misleading – prescriptively idealised (“‘irregardless’ is not English!”), unrealistically broad (“Both in Hong Kong and in Beijing people mostly speak Chinese at home”), unrealistically narrow (“this phrase is in Hindi, not Urdu!”), etc. But that’s an argument for categories that correspond better to observed practice, not for abandoning categorization. After all, the “internal perspective of the bilingual speaker” needs to include the knowledge that some parts of his/her repertoire will not be understood by some people.

  23. David Eddyshaw says

    That interview seems to give a very good summary of the ideology. (I don’t mean to denigrate it in naming it thus: it seems to be a good ideology, in principle, at any rate. How well it works in practice might be another matter, as with other proposed panaceas in education.)

    I must admit that sentences beginning “the work of neurolinguists* is also beginning to show that …” strongly predispose me to disbelieve whatever follows, but that is simple prejudice on my part, as the work of neurolinguists is beginning to show.

    *Or neurolinguites.

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    Ofelia García does rather talk as if the existence of water disproves the existence of hydrogen and oxygen: there is no real parallel between the very real difficulty of defining language versus dialect, and the competence of a bilingual in two undoubtedly distinct languages (such as Welsh and English, in the ur-case.)

  25. J.W. Brewer says

    Is there a master list of modern vogue-academic-jargon English words that originated as calques from Welsh? Surely this can’t be the only one?

  26. Well, in an ultimate sense, they all did, of course, but the details can be of interest.

  27. Stu Clayton says

    I have attempted by introspection to identify Deep Welsh Structure in my archetype kit. Haven’t come up with much so far, but that may just be me. Or my total ignorance of the relevant Surface Structure.

  28. Well, there may well be some difficulty in deciding which language a given word belongs to, given the constant possibility of nonce borrowing – rather more in one direction than in the other, though…

    It seems they don’t exactly deny the competence of a bilingual in two distinct languages, though it sounds a lot like it; from this article, they’re saying “the dual ontology of the two separable named languages is anchored in sociocultural beliefs, not in psycholinguistic properties of the underlying system”. Matras defends essentially the same idea from a rather different perspective; it effectively changes the question from “how do contact phenomena occur?” to “how are contact phenomena prevented from occurring?”, and makes the answer to that essentially social. That’s fair as far as it goes, but I think it risks understating the importance of structural factors – phonological, morphological, selectional differences are often conspicuous, strictly language-internal cues as to what belongs in which language, and the fairly wide attestation of Parallel System Borrowing shows that we can keep separating out lexical strata even _after_ borrowing them.

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    The vogue-jargon word “chronotope”, found in a block quote in the latest post re kanbunmyaku, is said to come from the Russian vogue-jargon word xронотоп, supposedly popularized by Bakhtin, yet I suspect not enough attention has been paid to Welsh influences in Bakhtin’s work. (FWIW I actually took a class as an undergrad with the U.S. linguistic anthropologist accused by wikipedia of helping to popularize the word in Anglophone jargon but I don’t recall that word coming up in that class. Maybe he saved it for the grad students?)

  30. David Eddyshaw says


    You must get in touch with your inner Welshman.


    Ah, yes. Bachtyn. A true son of the valleys, that bachgen.

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    From a “cognitive system” point of view, Spanish and English are much less different than lots of other pairs of standard “named” languages are, and that seems to be the pair that Otheguy et al. (authors of the piece linked by Lameen) are most familiar with. The “translanguaging” I overhear most frequently in my house is my wife talking to her parents on the phone in a macaronic blend of English and Taiwanese. I’m not confident that an analysis that accounts well for Spanglish will necessarily account well for that.

  32. J.W. Brewer says

    Note also that the somewhat revisionist-to-nihilistic sensibility of the Otheguy et al. piece is maybe explained in part by his being the honoree of a recent-ish festschrift entitled “Questioning Theoretical Primitives in Linguistic Inquiry: Papers in honor of Ricardo Otheguy.”

  33. in a macaronic blend of English and Taiwanese

    Are there any blends of the Тохтановись type (a blend of the Turkic tokhta ‘stop! (2 person singular imperative)’ and the Russian ostanovis’ ‘the same meaning’?

  34. David Eddyshaw says

    I’m not confident that an analysis that accounts well for Spanglish will necessarily account well for that.

    Yes indeed.

    I wonder if this attempted conflation, between dialect diversity and competence in completely distinct languages, is based on some Chomskyan preconception that all languages are basically the same anyway, or simple ignorance of the degree to which this is resoundingly untrue. Or both, of course.

    Of course, as a programme for education of bilingual children, “translanguaging” might well still be fruitful, even if the supposed theoretical justifications are partly incoherent. They wouldn’t be the first to come up with bad reasons for doing the correct thing.

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    The article Lameen links to is a farrago of special pleading and non sequiturs (e.g. “race” is a social construct, therefore “language” is a social construct of the same kind.)

    Just because your cause is righteous, it doesn’t mean that you can wilfully misuse the evidence. This sort of thing just ends up giving spurious plausibility to the Jordan Petersons of this world, with their bogus “you can’t handle the truth” shtick.

    Moreover “Otherguy” is a transparent pseudonym …

  36. My god, I just realized I met Ricardo Otheguy at Columbia back in the ’70s; he was part of Diver‘s group. (Odd but not Chomskyan.)

  37. J.W. Brewer says

    I should note that Comrade Otheguy condemns the label “Spanglish” as inaccurate and counter-revolutionary. Other comrades, however, believe it can successfully be reclaimed and made a positive term a la “queer” yet still other comrades fret that using Wrong Terminology will inevitably give aid and comfort to the enemy. What is perhaps more interesting is that in the context of this piece Otheguy is said to be arguing (this is all a paraphrase by some grad students who attended the relevant panel discussion, and indeed an English paraphrase of points that were made at least in part in Spanish) as if “Spanish” is actually a conceptually coherent thing even though it comes in many regional varieties and that “Spanglish” wrongly implies some sort of blended contact language when the language variety being so labeled is actually just another legitimate local variety of Spanish which due to historical circumstances has a more-than-average rate of English loanwords, much as Peruvian Spanish has a more-than-average rate of Quechua loanwords.

  38. David Eddyshaw says

    The use of the word [Spanglish] demonstrates how race has been re-mapped from biology onto language , as Urciuoli maintains, i.e., comments about language become substitutes for comments about the biological inferiority of a group.

    (from JWB’s link)
    This business about race has being re-mapped from biology onto language is helpful in showing me where all this is coming from, and indeed sympathising; still, a bad argument remains a bad argument even when used to support a valid conclusion. And the Otheguyistas seem to be attempting to draw universal purely linguistic conclusions about bilingualism from phenomena which are essentially sociological (and parochial), and (much worse) picking and choosing the evidence to fit their conclusions.

    The matter is further confused by the fact that the participants confessedly mean quite different things by “Spanglish”; they do all seem to agree that it is the actual distinctive fully-functional L1 of a community, interestingly, which is not what I ignorantly supposed. They really seem only to differ about whether the actual name “Spanglish” should be proudly reclaimed, like “Black” or “Queer” (or “Methodist.”)

  39. PlasticPaddy says

    “Any teacher, including a monolingual one, can take up translanguaging to enable their bilingual students to make deeper meaning and legitimize their home language practices.”
    I do not think this is a good idea in the average classroom and may even be interpreted as bullying!

    “It posits that bilinguals have a much more complex and expanded repertoire than monolinguals.”
    Positing something does not make it so.

  40. David Eddyshaw says

    And what’s wrong with blended contact languages, anyway? Seems to me these Otheguys are in danger of falling into creolism. Creolophobia. Whatever. Mi fa, a no go giri.

  41. J.W. Brewer says

    Part of the problem may be that “Spanglish” is too catchy a name and thus too easily lends itself to use by the Wrong Sort of People who may use it with Wrong Motives. To minimize that risk, you want a clunky academic-jargon label or acronym (parallel to “AAVE”) which virtually no actual speakers of the variety would use to refer to it left to their own devices.

  42. I remember my feeling was that the Diverites had interesting ideas but no real grasp of how language works.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Matras is presumably influenced by his work on Domari, which genuinely is remarkable in its fusion (and not) of Arabic and Indic elements; but while Domari shows just what unexpected things are possible in language contact situations, it would be a brave soul who claimed that Domari was typical.

    Belatedly, it occurs to me that Lameen is an expert in this very area (as well), especially what with Korandje and all. What do you think yourself, Lameen? And is “Spanglish” at all comparable to Domari or Northern Songhay?

  44. J.W. Brewer says

    To DE’s “what’s wrong” point, it also seems that if the key point here is not damaging anyone’s self-esteem, you can come up with a plausible Just So Story to justify any number of different descriptions. Should you tell Haitian speakers of Kreyol that what they speak is just a different regional variety of French that is neither better nor worse than the variety the snoots at the Academie are hung about about (which is in turn only one of many varieties that co-exist within l’Hexagon)? Or should you tell them that what they speak is actually not really a version of French at all but a cool thing their extremely resourceful ancestors invented that uses French lexemes as mere raw material to create a different language altogether? Both of those stories seem ex ante equally well-suited for boosting listener self-esteem, so maybe one could pick between them and select the best way to conceptualize Kreyol for scholarly purposes based on other grounds?

  45. Stu Clayton says

    Is this “Spanglish” an urbanite umbrella term covering, among others, what used to be called TexMex ? I’ve seen the word occasionally in the ‘net. It whiffed of talking-head flippancy, but what do I know, having been extra muros for donkey’s years.

  46. extra muros

    That’s Latin for “outside the Alamo.”

  47. Stu Clayton says

    My attitude towards actual knowledge is vacuus cantabit.

  48. David Eddyshaw says

    An excellent principle. It is why I never put my patentable ideas in comments here. In fact, to be on the safe side, I try to avoid discernible meaning altogether. Too many thieves about.

  49. “ Is this “Spanglish” an urbanite umbrella term covering, among others, what used to be called TexMex ?”

    I’m Mexican-American and I’ve only ever seen the term TexMex used for food or music. I’ve only seen or heard “Spanglish” used for the mixing of the Spanish and English languages. Maybe “TexMex” was also used at some point but if it was it was from before my time ( or in places far from where I’ve lived.)

  50. Pancho, what’s your take on the term “Spanglish”? In your experience, do Mexican-Americans know it, use it, and/or approve of it?

  51. Unitended humor from J.W.Brewer’s link: “José, can you see, by the dawn’s early light. Cross the border [page break] Zentella & Otheguy, debate about “Spanglish”

  52. Y, in my experience yes, Mexican-Americans know the term but outside cultural or political discussions I don’t think we use the term all that much in daily life ( in my experience.) I think that’s partly because its just slang for a lot of people and kind of normal, in my opinion, for the people who use it.

    The term itself is neutral or used with humor. I’ve seen people disapprove of Spanglish itself but not the label. I’ve used it and have no problems using it but I don’t think iI have ever really used it outside of discussions in school, except maybe a few times I was joking about “Spanglish” with a friend, maybe.

  53. It occurred to me that maybe the term “Spanglish” is like the word “gravity”: it’s around you, it happens all the time but you don’t really mention it even when you fall.

  54. From what little I know of it, I don’t think “Spanglish” is a mixed language; it looks like Spanish with a bunch of English loanwords, plus some code-switching which by its nature can hardly be considered a conventionalised part of it. If some Spanish-speaking community were to maintain itself for a few hundred years far enough from Mexico – in North Dakota, say – I could imagine this going much further. But even Korandje still has a mostly solidly Songhay basic grammar, despite losing all but a few hundred words of the vocabulary. Languages aren’t just melting pots; if they survive at all, they almost always maintain a certain core stability.

    The question of whether a bilingual’s languages are stored as a unit or as two units always strikes me as kind of a moot point. We know bilinguals can and mostly do separate their two languages, so clearly if you do assume a single lexicon for both, most lexical items must still include some sort of information on which language a given item belongs to – meaning you can still split up the lexicon by language any time you need to. In a construction grammar approach, that works straightforwardly with the grammar too; implementing it in a generativist one seems trickier, hence MacSwan’s objections I guess.

  55. David Eddyshaw says

    The question of stability seems important. A lot of the peculiarity of Domari seems referable to the fact that the language is moribund. I’m not at all clear to what extent “Spanglish” represents the loss of full control of Spanish by the children and grandchildren of unequivocal L1 Spanish speakers, as opposed to being a new, highly innovative and English-influenced yet stable form of language (whether you call it “Spanish” or not being of no direct relevance except insofar as it might reflect speaker attitudes to the language and thus its future viability.)

    It doesn’t help that the term itself is evidently not always used to describe the same thing.

    “Spanglish” sounds as if it ought to imply a form of language with significant changes in morphosyntax traceable to English influence. However, it occurs to me that this is actually a linguistically informed take on the matter: for people who think of languages as bags of words (i.e. most people), multiple loans and frequent code-switching will probably be interpreted as signs of subnormal language even if the actual structure of the Spanish is essentially unimpaired.

  56. Some of what is called Spanglish could be English, purposefully seasoned with Spanish phrases or nouns, like “Hey baby, qué pasó”. At its cheesiest, it could be like n-th generation American Jews cutesying up their speech with “boychik” and “nudnik”, etc., or like the “Padre” in E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia stories, who constantly veers between faux Scots, faux Irish English, and faux Olde Englisshe.

  57. J.W. Brewer says

    @Y: Interestingly enough, the band cut a different version of that song which you might say is done the other way round, i.e. in Spanish purposefully seasoned with English phrases or nouns.

  58. The question of whether a bilingual’s languages are stored as a unit or as two units always strikes me as kind of a moot point.

    Obviously, my English and Russian are a single system: they both exist in one mind, they interact. And likely if you represent the whole thing as a graph (vertices being elements of a language or neurons), there will be areas in it with a high degree of connectivity within an area, even for a monolingual speaker. Likely, what I called and imagine to be “My English” partly/mostly matches one such area.

    As Brett said in another thread, defining precisely what is a “cluster” in a connnected graph is nothing easy. If you build a machine that can map my brain (literally, on a paper on the wall), things will not magically become easy.

    I do not see a point in arguing in a maximalist way whether they are two systems or one system. They are both. It is just that, depending on your question it is convenient to look at it any given such graph as one system now, and as two systems tomorrow.

    meaning you can still split up the lexicon by language any time you need to.

    As I understand, speakers or phonologically similar langauges X and Y tend to confidently classify words as “from X” and “from Y [once borrowed from X]”, even when a linguist is unable to do that.

  59. Cf. Mourigh p. 6 “1.7 Code-switching or borrowing”:

    while non-integrated elements are mostly indistinguishable from their Arabic equivalents, when asked, speakers clearly state that they do belong to their ššelḥa

    The problem is not whether we can assign items to X or to Y. The problem is that depending on our task, the very goal of assigning/classifying words can be a distraction.

    And it is not that Saussurean langue is anyhow “bad”. It is just that it is not needed everywhere.

    Again, why maximalism: destroying it utterly or dismissing attempts to speak in different terms as “ideology”?

  60. January First-of-May says

    For what it’s worth, I’ve often had problems thinking of the Russian translation of an English word, as well as the English translation of a Russian word (and as far as I’m aware this is fairly normal). I’d say it’s strong evidence towards the “two units” option.

    Perhaps it works differently with true bilinguals, though (I’m not one – I’m fairly good at English but in no way native).

  61. Here I am starting having bad thoughts about Christology.

    Are we discussing here if a system that is two subsystems is a system or two subsystems?

    P.S. of course you can not say that I (and my language knowlege) am not one system.

  62. i’ve heard “spanglish” used to refer to both something spoken in aztlán and something spoken in new york city. the latter usage, in my experience, includes pretty much anything that uses both (new york) english and (puerto rican / dominican) spanish, from classic (phrase/sentence alternation) codeswitching, to utterances mostly one language but with some words in the other, to much more densely mixed (or higher-alternation-frequency) blends. but neither the english nor the spanish involved has much to do with the formally-taught version of either language, and the label is just as vernacular as the lect(s).

  63. P.S. of course you can not say that I (and my language knowlege) am not one system.

    Well, exactly: no one can possibly doubt that a bilingual’s two languages are each part of a single larger system in the speaker’s head at some level, so why is so much importance apparently attached to this point?

  64. John Cowan says

    I agree with Rozele, at least about NYC.

    Instead of viewing bilingualism as strictly separated languages in the individual’s mind

    With the exception, of course, of those who are fully bilingual in both Serbian and Croatian.

  65. marie-lucie says

    Does “bilingual” in this thread mean “anyone fluent in two languages” or “anyone who learned two languages from infancy”? Here we are discussing bilingualism “from a distance”, as if we did not have personal experience of it (and even “multi” lingualism for some).

  66. January First-of-May says

    Here we are discussing bilingualism “from a distance”, as if we did not have personal experience of it

    I personally assumed it was referring to the infancy version, but I’m not sure if I would call myself fluent in English either. I certainly stumble a lot when I try to speak it.

  67. marie-lucie says

    But not when you write it! (at least it seems to me).

  68. With the exception, of course, of those who are fully bilingual in both Serbian and Croatian.

    Well just to be clear, this is actually hard to do – in the same way it’s uncommon for English speakers to sound fluent in a variety of English not their own (see, eg , any American actor trying an English or Australian accent).

  69. see, eg , any American actor trying an English or Australian accent).

    Yes, but that is presumably poor coaching since the converse is so common as to be unremarkable (see, for example, the cast of “The Wire”.) Gillian Anderson is an American who appears to be bilingual in British English.

  70. There are a plenty of American actors who do other English accents fine. On the other hand, one can hear lots of legendarily bad American accents coming from British actors—although that seems to have gotten less common in more recent years. Whether one notices more bad British accents or American accents presumably depends on which side of the ocean one is used to. (Gillian Anderson, incidentally, lived most of her childhood—and most of her subsequent life—in Britain; she has both accents natively, but British English seems to be her default.)

  71. January First-of-May says

    But not when you write it!

    Indeed, which I suspect is mostly down to fundamentally different levels of experience (in both directions – lots of writing but almost no speaking, and lots of reading but relatively little listening).

  72. I understand “bilingual” in the context of this thread in the narrow sense. I said “of course you can not say that I (and my language knowlege) am not one system.” when I am native only in Russian, because “I have one head, ergo I am one unit” can be applied to anyone.

    Well just to be clear, this is actually hard to do

    People have doubts about Serbian and Croatian because of this:

    It is patchy.

  73. You can’t be bilingual in Serbian _and_ Croatian, that’s impossible. They’re too different.

  74. I can no longer tell whether people are deadpanning about FYLOSC or not.

  75. David Marjanović says

    FYLOSC is the new “Thanks, Obama!”.

  76. I keep seeing it as ФЫЛОЩ.

  77. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Surely that’s the Serbian spelling?

  78. “Thanks, Tito!”

  79. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    I’m also sorely tempted to start speaking of the FYLOSC Controversy

  80. Andrej Bjelaković says
  81. January First-of-May says

    You can’t be bilingual in Serbian _and_ Croatian, that’s impossible. They’re too different.

    …Now that I think about it, this is actually kind of true, assuming that by “they” you meant the ethnicities rather than the languages.


    …context: it is, in fact, possible for someone to be bilingual in two closely related language varieties; this commonly happens in cases of diglossia (IIRC, a lot of native speakers of AAVE are bilingual in AAVE and a higher-prestige dialect), but can probably also occur in a mixed family, and/or if parents speak one variety and kindergarten classmates speak another.

    However, the Yugoslav Wars made it very clear that people in Serbia are Serbs who speak Serbian and people in Croatia are Croats who speak Croatian. As such, there are no places (as far as I’m aware) with a Serbian/Croatian diglossia (in either direction), and both mixed families and displaced-language families are extremely unlikely.

    (On second thought, I suppose it is, in principle, possible that, e.g., a family of nominally-Serbs who grew up in 1980s Croatia and spoke Croatian ended up moving to Serbia in the 1990s but continued speaking Croatian among themselves [or vice versa, obviously]; if so, a child of such a family could in principle end up bilingual in Serbian and Croatian, assuming that they don’t just end up in their head as a single complicated mess. I’m not aware of any such examples, but I do have to admit that they might exist.)

  82. Trond Engen says

    Not to your point, but I know a family of self-reported Croatian-speaking Croatians who spend their holidays with relatives in Belgrade. I don’t know the story behind that.

  83. Bathrobe says

    You can’t be bilingual in Serbian _and_ Croatian, that’s impossible. They’re too different.

    Your comment would make sense if you wrote “You can’t be bilingual in Serbian _and_ Croatian, that’s impossible. They’re too similar.”

    It’s possible to be bilingual in English and Mongolian, precisely because they’re different languages. It’s closely related varieties that require more subtlety. But I do think it’s possible to be fluent in two similar varieties. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before of a Scottish family that had moved to Australia. The children spoke Scottish English at home and Australian English in the community.

  84. Well. Lepetane has 194 persons, of them 63 Croats, 59 Serbs, 50 Montenegrins, 3 Slovenians, 2 Macedonians, 1 Megman, 1 Muslim, 1 Unknown.

    Why I am speaking about this: one of the very few Montenegrins I spoke to when I visited my freind in Herceg Novi was an old lady from Lepetane.

    I did not want to pay a million dollars for a taxi (and did not know local language well enough), so I was trying to figure out where I should wait for a bus, and the lady was trying to say me something, seemingly to help. But all I could understand was “Ne razumiješ?:-(” I do not know whether it was Serbian
    ne razumiješ, “you don’t understand?:-(“, Croatian
    ne razumiješ, “you don’t understand?:-(“, or Montenegrian
    ne razumiješ, “you don’t understand?:-(“.

    Or Bokeljian?

  85. David Eddyshaw says

    You can’t be bilingual in Serbian _and_ Croatian, that’s impossible. They’re too different.

    As they say in Hausa:

    Kama da Wane ba Wane ba.

    Like Somebody is not [the same as] Somebody.”

  86. ə de vivre says

    You can’t be bilingual in Serbian _and_ Croatian, that’s impossible. They’re too different.

    That reminds me of trying to learn Azeri from Turkish. So many of the words were different only in consonant voicing or metathesis, and in ways that weren’t regular enough to keep straight which was which. There was even a book published for that very purpose called Köprü Körpü after the word for ‘bridge’ in Turkish and Azeri, respectively.

  87. @drasvi: What is a “Megman”? The terms seems unknown in English; a Google search only turns up references to the Rockman video game series.

  88. A typo:(
    I copied it and then substituted each word with translation. It was “German”. I understand why typo, the process “select-type-select-type-select…” is unusual enough.

    But I do not understand how Ger-> Meg is possible:/

  89. I think “Megman” makes an excellent code word.

  90. Trond Engen says

    Its a portmaplogy. Megallemaniac.

  91. You should substitute Rabinovich for Megman and the joke will be obvious.

  92. David Eddyshaw says

    Spoken like a true Belgian!

  93. Körpü

    That has prompted me to look up kirpi/kerpe, ‘siili’, and the surprising thing was that Bashkir had mutated the k into a t:
    but had kept it unchanged in керпек/kirpik ‘(silmä)ripsi’.

  94. David L. Gold says

    @ David Eddyshaw

    I agree with everything you say in your comments on this thread except your statement that Otherguy is a pseudonym.

    Otegui ~ Oteguy ~ Otheguy is a Basque family name found at least in Spain, Uruguay, and Brazil.

    Ricardo Otheguy ( holds a doctorate in linguistics from the City University of New York, where he now teaches.

  95. By the way, MacSwan refers to… Bakhtin.

    I do not know if it was by chance that G.W. Brewer posted his comment about chronotope here and not in the thread where the word “chronotope” was used.

    Translanguaging has emerged as a new term within bilingual education and has given voice to a heteroglossic language ideology (Bailey, 2007;Bakhtin, 1975; Garcı ́a, 2009) that values bilingualism as a sustainable community resource in its own right rather than a merely tolerated transition to majority language monolingualism (a monoglossic ideology).

    begins he

    At this point I postponed further attempts.

    But I am still inclined to defend the naïve use of “some term other than code-switching meant to describe subjective perspective”. How else if I have felt the need in such a term myself?

    Not a new theory, simply a new word, because for me it would be convenient. I felt this need in contexts as infromal and as deideologized as only possible. But no I won’t adopt this one.

  96. David Eddyshaw says


    I had intended my (mis)spelling to be a clue as to my level of seriousness.

  97. David Eddyshaw says

    On the topic of linguistic exogamy, I just discovered this passage in Anne Storch’s grammar of Luwo:

    However, as far as historical research suggests, migrations took place over centuries. Reh (2002) reports how some of the Southern Lwoo groups developed strategies such as intermarrying with local groups, which is reflected in the historical semantics of the courting vocabulary. Her observation that the verb ‘court’ derives from an older root ‘speak a foreign language’ is a good indication that wives could have come from communities other than Lwoo. Examples provided by Reh (2002: 587) are: (1.1)

    Shilluk: dum, dumo ‘to speak a strange language; to interpret’; odumi ‘interpreter’
    Anywa: dʊʊm ‘to speak a foreign language’
    Acholi: dòòm ‘foreign language, metaphor’; làdoom ‘interpreter’
    Lango: dumo ‘to speak a foreign language, to interpret’
    Dholuo: dʊm ‘to speak in a foreign language’
    Alur: dʊmɔ ‘to speak a language; to ask in marriage’; dʊmɪrɪ ‘to speak fluently; to court, to seek each other as marriage partners’

  98. That’s beautiful.


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