Of two minds

Improving understanding of bilingualism

Portrait of François Grosjean.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
François Grosjean.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Around the world, English now is the lingua franca, the default language of spoken and written communication among native speakers of other languages. So bilingualism is becoming the norm, rather than an exception in business, academic life, and everyday affairs. In some small countries, such as Norway, fluency in English, and hence bilingualism, is required in some professions as well as for admission to college and universities. Even monoglot English speakers need to be aware of the benefits and pitfalls of bilingualism in interacting with native speakers of other languages.

The trend toward bilingualism is recent, within living memory. Norwegian-American linguistic scholar Einar Haugen (1906-1994) was among the first to study it thoroughly. In 1953 he published The Norwegian Language in America: A Study in Bilingual Behavior, a pioneering work that now is a benchmark in the field of bilingualism (Further reading). That work and his significant contributions to the fields of language studies are commemorated by the Annual Einar Haugen Lecture at the University of Oslo Center for Multilingualism in Society Across the Lifespan, held each year on September 26, coinciding with the European Day of Languages.

The 2016 Einar Haugen Lecture by François Grosjean, a Professor Emeritus and former director of the Language and Speech Processing Laboratory at the University of Neuchâtel (Switzerland) summed up his extension of Einar Haugen’s work in understanding the bilingual individual. In 1974 through 1987, Prof. Grosjean taught and conducted linguistic research at Northeastern University and at MIT. During his stay in the USA, Grosjean frequently met with Einar Haugen, who became his mentor and friend. His talks with Haugen led to a holistic view of bilingualism and to the view for which he is most known, that bilingual individuals are not two monolinguals in one person, but rather interacting human communicators.

Grosjean has also expanded the concept of bilingualism to include sign language. In one of his most cited publications, he contends that hearing-impaired children have the right to grow up bilingual by learning two languages, an oral language and sign language (published in 2001 in Sign Language Studies, link: doi.org/10.1353%2Fsls.2001.0003).

In 1980, Einar Haugen reflected on his career as a leading researcher in bilingualism and wrote that then “The subject was grossly neglected… and without realizing it, I stood at the beginning of what has since become a flood of writings.” Indeed, time proved Haugen right. And today there is a Cambridge University Press scientific journal, Bilingualism, Language and Cognition (link: www.cambridge.org/core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition) cofounded in 1998 by François Grosjean.

Further reading:
“Notable Norwegians: Einar Ingvald Haugen” by David Moe, The Norwegian American, September 26, 2014, link: www.norwegianamerican.com/heritage/notable-norwegians-einar-ingvald-haugen.

Norwegian Language in America: A Study in Bilingual Behavior by Einar Haugen, two volumes, the American Institute, University of Oslo, in cooperation with the Department of American Civilization, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953; republished in one volume in 1970 by the Indiana University Press.

Bilingual: Life and Reality by François Grosjean, Cambridge, 2012, Harvard University Press Reprint Edition.

European Day of Languages: www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/JEL_en.asp.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 20, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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