Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Being in two minds

My attention was caught (while I was making other plans, as usual :-)) by a blog about bilingualism and its correlation with personality. I have to admit, though, that the distraction from those other plans was not as great as I'd hoped. Like many academic blogs it's more of an amuse-bouche than a main course.

It starts out with the less than flabbergasting observation that
You might think of the shy person who becomes much more extroverted when talking to family or close friends. Alternatively, we could think about someone who acts in one manner with his co-workers but acts very differently when having a drink with former college dormmates.
Well GOSH. Next he'll be telling me the Pope wears a big hat. This observation seems to me like that Einstein line about time seeming to speed up when you're with a pretty girl [Einstein's sexism, yer 'Onner] and slow down if your hand's on a hot stove; it's  true but its relevance to Relativity (in the physics sense) is tenuous at best. What I wanted to be told about was whether processing different languages favoured distinct character traits (a point I touched on here, referring to a personal experience):
...[T]his has resonance in my own experience selling magazines in Spain. I found it much easier to be deceitful (not lying but painting a rosy picture of the future – I was selling subscriptions). My initial belief was that this was a feature of the language; this belief fitted in with vocabulary that related to my own position, back in England.
<autobiographical_note blush_factor="10">
I was a boy-friend to someone who thought I was a fiancé; the one word novio blurred the distinction. Did I love her?  I doubt it; but I was happy to say Te quiero, because – past-master as I was in the field of casuistry [fruit of an RC education] – I did want her, and querer can mean 'want' (cf. Kant's 'murderer at the door' dilemma, and this  [specifically 'All men are false']).
But maybe it's to do with speaking in foreign languages generally; maybe it works for any L1/L2 combination.
But, returning to that blog [do keep up] that disappointing aperçu was followed by a more promising  later reflection:
As I thought about it more, I realized that language might serve as a form of context that triggers certain memories. One interesting analogy comes from work with deep-sea divers. Divers often seem to forget what happened to them underwater. Follow up work on this observation has found that when divers are taught a list of words underwater they are better at recalling more of those words later underwater than they are outside water. The opposite was also true. They exhibited better memory for words learned above water when they were asked to remember outside of water. Hence, a particular context serves to elicit memories relevant to that context. In this view, memory is driven by a set of cues that elicit certain responses from us. 
Source [My emphasis]
But this is just about speaking different languages, not about bilingualism (growing up in an environment that uses two languages). Is a Catalan child cheekier, say,  when using Catalan than they are when using Castilian? And, given the same context, if they are being cheeky, are they more likely to use one language than another?

Dunno –  Maybe I'll have to take the course mentioned in that blog.


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