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Being a polyglot and its social implications

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RE: Being a polyglot and its social implications

Postby two_heads_talking » Thu 01.24.2008 10:05 am

chikara wrote:

That is an important distinction between a multilingual culture and a majority multilingual population. Many people in the south of India only speak Tamil and many people in the north only speak Hindi.


I am aware of that. but based on sheer percentage, it could easily be argued that it is a multi-llingual country. I ust think it's a matter of opinion. yours and mine might not agree and I am ok with that.

I think we all (myself included) tend to want everyone else to agree with out opinion of such a thing. Much of what we discuss(argue) is a matter of debate and quite frankly there is no official (list of multi-lingual countries) list and even if there was one, you can see here that even then some people would disagree with good reasons for that disagreement (such as what you bring up chikara).

What I am saying is we might be putting too much effort in pigeonholing a country into multi-lingual or mono-lingual category and for what reason? Just to prove we know more than someone else? Or that our perspective is better than someone else? Or that our knowledge of 'obscure' countries is greater than someone else?

that's all I am getting at. I am merely playing devil's advocate to loosen up the conversation.
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RE: Being a polyglot and its social implications

Postby Wakannai » Thu 01.24.2008 12:26 pm

For your first point, please refer to point 9 of this link.


I've seen these numbers before, I just find them as questionable as the 99% literacy statistics cited for countries.

The truth is, these secondary languages are dying out at, what linguists consider an alarming rate. Globalization doesn't encourage multi-lingualism, it actually is the cause for language extinction. Some have estimated that another 1000 languages will be extinct by 2100. In countries with a dominant language, fewer parents every year bother to teach the second language, mostly because the children stop speaking it themselves as they are growing up due to negative social pressure, so they cannot teach their own children by the time they reach adulthood due to forgetting most of the language. Or parents do not want their children to develop an accent that can negatively affect their social advancement, so they teach the dominant language first, then when they attempt to teach the second language, the children resist or refuse to learn outright.

This is especially true in China, with all of those secondary languages you mention, as well as North and South America. Where the native languages are simply being smothered by the dominant language: Mandarin, English, and Spanish.

Other countries, Like Japan, have a second language that is mandatory taught by the education system. But can we really call Japan a multi-lingual country because of it, when most of what they learn is forgotten as soon as they graduate? Do we include Dead languages, or languages that are learned purely for religious reasons, but are not used outside a religious setting?
Last edited by Wakannai on Thu 01.24.2008 12:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Being a polyglot and its social implications

Postby chikara » Thu 01.24.2008 7:17 pm

two_heads_talking wrote:
I am aware of that. but based on sheer percentage, it could easily be argued that it is a multi-llingual country. I ust think it's a matter of opinion. yours and mine might not agree and I am ok with that. ....

I was actually agreeing with you :)
Don't complain to me that people kick you when you're down. It's your own fault for lying there
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RE: Being a polyglot and its social implications

Postby arbalest71 » Fri 01.25.2008 7:29 am

Wakannai wrote:
The truth is, these secondary languages are dying out at


OK, so that means people are less likely to be multi-lingual as regards local dialects/languages. To compensate, they are more likely to speak both their native language and English, and possibly some others.

I come from a family that is notorious for extending the reach of the English language. I imagine we stamped out a few languages all on our lonesome. That's all a long time ago, of course, but one thing I noticed a while back was that our Indian grad students spoke their own version of English, and they spoke it like natives. I'm not sure if they should count as native English speakers or not ;).

I wouldn't consider Japan a country blessed with a gift for languages. Sure, studying English is mandatory, but learning English is not, so... compare with Scandinavians, or Icelanders, who all seem to speak four or five languages competently.
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RE: Being a polyglot and its social implications

Postby two_heads_talking » Fri 01.25.2008 9:38 am

chikara wrote:
two_heads_talking wrote:
I am aware of that. but based on sheer percentage, it could easily be argued that it is a multi-llingual country. I ust think it's a matter of opinion. yours and mine might not agree and I am ok with that. ....

I was actually agreeing with you :)


Well, color me embarassed. :o :D
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RE: Being a polyglot and its social implications

Postby caroline » Sun 01.27.2008 9:50 am

My apologies for not logging in earlier, and appearing like a late comer.
I find in this thread many things that passed fleetingly in my mind.

Being a polylgot certainly defines me, as it does Chris : I would not have my present carreer if I had not been good at languages : I passed exams and graduated well because I had good grades in languages... So I guess, would I not know those languages, I'd be someone else (at least, my professional self would be someone else).

I never gave much thought about learning languages until I started japanese , as I never had to learn the other ones behind a desk (excluded latin and greek, but they are a diffrent breed): as many people here I lived in different places and environments that made my native language and the following 2 effortless. The second one, I don't use a lot, but can be "native" after one week of going back into the country. And yes, it does change life not to have intonations and holes in vocabulary that might hint that you don't belong. But it's a contextual definition.

English did come because I was raised in an international school, where a large percentage of pupils were english or american : so, it came quite easily, but never got perfect : I knew enough to be better than most, to be able to read, and today I probably read more in english than in French. As you have surely noticed, fluency and understanding are more natural to me than "good" english; english was good enough for study, work, entertainment, but I had not enough will to study grammar properly and so it lacks in grammar correction...

Does the fact of speaking and reading different languages defines a person? I guess it does tend to make "polyglots" slighly more open to different cultures, and probably less sure that the one they live in is the best one in the world. At least that's what I realized through interactions with both monolingual (including the one that did study english as compulsory part on their curricula) and polylinguals".

To answer the OP, it does define also a large part of social interactions, as I found over the years that many of my friends tend to be "multicultural", not by choice but randomly : but this pertains more to culture than to language, as one does not have to be multicultural to be a polyglot, while cultures do bring the language with them.

Anyway, I'm not starting a thread about language and culture and their interactions.
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