[OT] Multilingualism (was: Re: [langue-fr] L'anglais est-il une langue...)

From: Doug Ewell (dewell@compuserve.com)
Date: Sat Dec 30 2000 - 14:52:26 EST

"Patrick Andries" <pandries@iti.qc.ca> wrote:

>> You're coming from
>> Canada, and Quebec in particular, which is possibly the most
>> universally bilingual place in the Americas.
> The Americas being one of the most unilingual place in the World...
> (if we except California ?).

Southern California, at least, is like other places in the U.S. with
significant populations for whom English is not the first language, in
that English fluency among those populations ranges anywhere from zero
to 100%, depending heavily on socioeconomic status.

Native Spanish speakers in SoCal may speak little or no English if they
are poor and generally uneducated. Their children are not necessarily
taught English at home, but must learn it in school (which puts both
them and the schools at a disadvantage).

East Asian immigrants almost invariably speak English, although often it
is grammatically incorrect and accented to the point that communication
is seriously impaired. They do teach their children English, but not
necessarily their native Asian language, so there is no guarantee of
multilingualism there either.

These are by far the two largest groups of non-native English speakers
in Southern California.

Among native English speakers, only the rather well-educated learn
Spanish or Asian languages to any respectable level of fluency. When
they do it is usually for some specific business purpose, rather than
to communicate with the man on the street or to enhance intercultural

The upshot is that Southern California, like so many other places, is
multilingual only the sense of having many people who speak *different*
languages, not many who speak *multiple* languages.

Patrick further wrote:

>> If they do speak two languages, then I'm saying we
>> should be glad of that, and focus on the ones who don't speak a
>> second language at all.
> Focus on the unilinguals in order to do what ?
> If most of the world is multilingual, which I stated as a fact, it
> does not mean that I approve of imposing a single universal second
> language to all of them...

Especially if that second language is English?

I thought Elliotte's example of Danes who also speak German illustrated
his point nicely. Knowing two languages, your own and the one of your
next closest neighbors, is much better than knowing just one. The point
is to encourage the monolinguals to learn *some* second language.

-Doug Ewell
 Fullerton, California

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