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The bilinguals' invisible friends part 2: Interferences


  For part 1 "alternation or code-switching" click here



Myself, 5 years


An other invisible friend of bilinguals, the interference is the use of features belonging to a specific language applied to another, says Mackey, ("Description of bilingualism")


It comes up when you least expect it and in most cases you will not even realize it, if it wasn’t for the quizzical expression on the face of your monolingual interlocutor ... ..

In short, the interferences are the classic "mistakes" that commits a bilingual speaking or writing.

These "errors" occur in different forms and proportions depending on the context. When writing, according to Mackey, the bilingual has more time to think and probably he will be more able to avoid the interference of which he is conscious; by talking, on the contrary, he will peep interference in the speech more easily.

Interferences may vary depending on the style used in the speech, on the context in which the bilingual finds himself and on his social role. Like ghosts of the mind, the interference fit into the speech when the bilingual drops his guard.

They can take different forms: grammatical, lexical, syntactic and even phonological.

You can then have interferences as a single word that is "coined" according to the model of another language, till a whole grammatical structure that does not exist in the language of the speech, but it’s adapted from the other language of the bilingual. You can also be witness of syntactic structures, or forms of sentence that are possible in one language, but not in the one they are inserted.

The phonological aspect is the most persistent form of interference, says Mackey. And we can easily imagine it! The sound of a language is made of pitch, rhythm, articulation (or what we commonly call accent).

Grosjean informs us about the accents: even experts disagree on the age limit beyond which it is no longer possible to learn a language without having an accent. Some say 6 years, some even reach 12. The same Grosjean reminds us that there is no relationship between accent and language skills and, in support of its contention, he brings the example of the Polish writer Joseph Conrad whom we have dealt with in a previous post. Conrad has been able to write in an excellent and original English, all having a strong accent in the spoken language!

In conclusion, the phonological interferences, although they are the most persistent ones, they are also those that allow us to communicate effectively, despite their "bulky presence"!

Grosjean again distinguishes between static and dynamic interference, depending on whether such errors are rooted, permanent traces of one language into another, or the occasional, accidental intrusions and the latter are not at all aware in the bilingual.

Therefore, on one side we have forms of interference that are rooted in us, that we are not able to get rid of by ourselves, let’s think about the accent that is not always possible to change it unless we submit ourselves to a specific speech therapy.

On the other hand, there are forms of interference that creep into our speech without a fixed pattern, they may appear and disappear depending on the situation. Interferences are completely random and maybe, a minute later, the bilingual, annoyed by that specific interference, is not going to use it any more, making use, instead, of a more appropriate form in the language he/she is currently speaking.




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