Two languages, one mind: How bilingual children’s languages influence each other

Freya is a six-year-old girl living in London. She was born there, just like her dad, a lifelong Londoner. Freya’s mum, though, was born and raised in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. Freya speaks both English and Dutch very well. When her dad picks her up after school, she’ll tell him, in English, what she’s learned that day, and when her mum picks her up, she’ll just as easily recount her adventures in Dutch. Every week, she talks to her Dutch grandma on the phone to tell her all about her new favorite animals, and with her friends, she fluently discusses the latest PAW Patrol episodes in English. Sometimes she uses a few Dutch words when she’s speaking English or vice versa. At breakfast, she may ask her dad: “Can I have more kaas?” (meaning “cheese”). So, even when she’s speaking in just one language, little clues can sometimes show that she is bilingual.

The International Decade of Indigenous Languages

Welcome to a new decade! The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the period between 2022 and 2032 to be the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL 2022-2032). Through this, the UN wants to push the international community to provide the resources that are necessary to support the preservation, revitalisation, and promotion of indigenous languages–languages native to a particular region and spoken by people who have traditionally lived there, which are often reduced to the status of a minority language. One important step in this is to raise global awareness of the critical situation many indigenous languages are in, which is important for both their speakers and linguistics as a field. More information about ongoing efforts can be found on the IDIL website. In this blog, I’ll explain why languages go extinct and why it is important to protect them.

Music or language? Sabar, the drum with a grammar

The streets of Nguekhokh, a small town in western Senegal, are filled with their own heartbeat: the beat of the Sabar drums. The musicians who play the Sabar and perform spoken word at parties and ceremonies say that ‘the drum speaks’. They don’t mean this figuratively. Sabar drumming has a grammar. So, is it music or a language?

Do bilinguals switch between personalities when they switch languages?

When people start learning and using a new language, some of them notice that they come across differently, almost as if they have a different personality. Could this be because they lack finesse in the new language? Or does the language we speak really shape our personality? A person’s personality is usually seen as a set of qualities and behaviors that are stable over time and across different situations. This is why it may be counterintuitive to think that it could change when speaking a different language.