A couple of news items of linguistic interest:
1) The NY Times yesterday had an interesting article by Michael Erard about kids’ slips of the tongue:

“Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” the three little pigs taunted the big bad wolf. When Anna Van Valin was 4 years old, she pronounced the phrase “not by the chair of my hinny hin hin” and unwittingly advanced the study of children’s language when she did.
Anna’s talk was often observed. Her mother, Dr. Jeri Jaeger, is a linguist at the State University of New York at Buffalo who collects the speech slips that children make in order to understand how they learn language. For two decades Dr. Jaeger has collected data wherever she found available children…
…Dr. Jaeger said: “Many parents get freaked out and think their child is making mistakes. But these slips of the tongue are entirely normal. In fact, they show that a child is acquiring language as they should be.”

2) BBC News says Learning languages ‘boosts brain’:

Researchers from University College London studied the brains of 105 people – 80 of whom were bilingual.
They found learning other languages altered grey matter – the area of the brain which processes information – in the same way exercise builds muscles.
People who learned a second language at a younger age were also more likely to have more advanced grey matter than those who learned later, the team said…

Makes a good follow-up to the native-speaker/second-language thread. (And thanks to my favorite Kansas correspondent for sending me the story!)


  1. Earlier studies had shown that bilingual speakers who learned fluency in both languages at an early age accessed the same parts of their brain (those associated with syntax and vocabulary) for both languages, while those who gained equal proficiency in their second language at a later age accessed a different part of the brain when using the second language. Not sure if this has any important consequences, but it is interesting. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from people I know who were bi(or tri)lingual from an early age that they often don’t know when they code-switch between the various languages they speak (as they do all the time with family members).

  2. Few notes:
    – Chukovsky had explored the subject “kids’ slips as process of learning the language” in his famous and pleasureable to read book “From 2 to 5” in 1963(mentioned,for example, here)
    – could this “brain boost” in bilinguals be partially responsible for relatively large persentage of 1st and 2nd generation immigrant kids’ superiority (vs. “natives”) in learning?
    – Kerim, I became fluent in second language in my later years (let’s say, after 25), but I experience same easy-switching phenomenon. Which is , really, a sad thing…

  3. Hm. Learning Esperanto at age 5 may have left a mark on me.

  4. Kerim, my mother and I switch between English, Afrikaans and occasionally even a Zulu word at times. We don’t plan to do it and answer each other naturally in whatever language comes first.
    I also know two unrelated shorthand-writing systems and when I take notes, they are in a mixture of three different writing systems. This is an excellent means of ensuring confidentiality.

  5. Wouldn’t every kind of learning ‘boost the brain’?

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