• Cindy Buccini

    Editor, Bostonia Twitter Profile

    Cindy Buccini

    Cindy Buccini is editor of Bostonia, Boston University’s alumni magazine, and alumni publications. Before joining the BU staff in 2001, she was a local newspaper reporter for many years and was communications coordinator for the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in science journalism, both from BU.  Profile

Comments & Discussion

Boston University moderates comments to facilitate an informed, substantive, civil conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, misleading, incoherent or off-topic comments will be rejected. Moderators are staffed during regular business hours (EST) and can only accept comments written in English.

There are 3 comments on A Language Evolves

  1. I would be cautious to perceive the use of English as a racio-ethnic calculation. In my experience (living in 5 continents and speaking 7 languages), people tend to revert to the best language in common for the pair/group. So even though Erker may be fluent in Spanish, the kids’ fluency in English is likely better, making English their best language in common – as opposed to the ethnically appropriate language.

    1. But the kids have to make their evaluation of the “best language in common” based on a pretty short conversational exchange. What cues do people use for this? Ethnic appearance may actually be a handy and reliable clue. Indeed, appearance may bea strong enough indication of fluency that it can orver-ride actual fluency (given that decision are made about language choice after a sentence or two). Accent is another obvious clue to fluency. But alumnus, see my anecdote below about Bob Hoffmeister and the deaf kids In this case, Bob’s ASL is *better* than the kids (because he is an adult and life-long native speaker, adopted a deaf daughter so uses ASL at home etc). And the deaf kids switched to “dumbing down” their sign when they learned he was hearing.

  2. Professor Erker – really interesting finding about the change in Spanish usage; obviously this isn’t just “contact” with English but a case where Spanish speakers are growing up immersed in English.

    I’ve come across a variation on this in the following context: Bob Hoffmeister grew up bilingual with sign language and English, as the hearing child of deaf parents. Bob now studies ASL acquisition in deaf children. He may be signing fluently to a deaf kid just fine, but when the kid sees Bob communicate to someone else via voice, the kid changes his register to Bob, and begins signing in the slow English-ified manner that deaf people sometimes find necessary for signing with hearing people who don’t sign well (foreigner talk).

    I also appreciate your finding about children’s idea that who you speak Spanish to reflects their ethnicity (not their demonstrated bilingualism).

    A monolingual father relayed the following incident from the playground. A 6 year old girl had been chatting him up and she eventually asked him, “What language do you speak?” He said, “Well, English.” She said ‘No, I mean, at home.” She had to explain that she spoke Amharic, being from Ethiopia, and thought it strange to meet someone who didn’t have a home language.

Post a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *