Thursday, May 12, 2005

Survey Results 2: Languages

To learn a new language is to gain a new soul
- Czech Proverb


Being multicultural is regularly tied to being multilingual (Leontovich, 2003). It is not surprising to see that all of the TCKs featured in my sample of 16 respondents speak at least two languages (all English and Danish), eleven of whom speak three languages or more.

Mother Tongue
What I find more interesting however, is the respondents' designation of their mother tongue. Danish was chosen as the mother tongue among five respondents, Spanish and Italian was chosen by one respondent each, while four individuals designate English as their mother tongue. Interestingly however, 3 of the respondents who chose English as they mother tongue neither have parents from an English speaking country, nor have they been brought up in a country where English is the official language. According to follow up interviews with two out of three of these respondents, this is mainly due to the fact that their parents of different nationalities chose English as their lingua franca, and thus bring up their children in English alongside their other native languages. In addition, four individuals are split between Danish and English being their mother tongue, three of them in spite of their parents both being from either Denmark or Nordic cultures. One of these respondents notes that when he thinks, he thinks in English, and so for some, the language in which you think is also your mother tongue.

Another respondent, who sees his mother tongue as being equally English, Danish and French, concurs by submitting that your mother tongue is the language which you count in. However, this fluctuates according to context - who he's with, where he is and how long he's been there for.

English as a Third Culture Language?
Everyday life in international settings, and especially in international schools - in which classes are usually in English - is bound to have it's influence on one's cultural identity, in particular when the time spent in school exceeds the time spent at home in waking hours.

The occurrence of English as a common language has been expected for a while now. Research has already shown that English is becoming an increasingly integral part of language in many countries, and especially so in the context of media. For instance, a study conducted by Mercedes Durham on the emergence of a Pan-Swiss English as the chosen language between the German, French and Italian populations in mailing lists further supports this tendency. Meanwhile, Swedish youngsters are increasingly incorporating English in text messages conversations. (Hård Af Segerstad, in CATaC 2002 proceedings).

There is obviously a long way between using English occasionally in text messages, and assuming it as a mother tongue. But it is an interesting trend nonetheless.

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