Saturday, January 28, 2012

Growing up trilingual deprecated (in Germany)

I just learnt from an acquaintance who's bringing up her 5 year old boy trilingual (Hindi, English, German) that the speech therapist he goes to has told her that she made a mistake to bring up her son speaking three languages, because "three is too much." These speech therapists are supposed to have gone through rigorous training before they are allowed to go out into the real world to improve, I mean, screw up, people's lives. This is a very practical profession with very real consequences for the real world. How could such uninformed ideas enter this specialist profession?

In the meantime, the mother is thinking of weaning her son off of Hindi, "because it's useless in Germany" (said the German speech therapist).

This reminds me of a recent German reviewer of one of my research projects that I submitted to the DFG (the proposal was rejected, and despite DFG's loud proclamations that they always send reasons for rejections, and completely contrary to anything I've ever seen in the case of the NSF, I never received a single sentence explaining why the project was rejected). This reviewer had a major objection to the project (as far as he expressed it to me): why are you working on Hindi? Why Hindi? Why not some other language more relevant to Germany, like Turkish?

Another time, a reviewer of an experiment involving German we submitted to the CUNY sentence processing conference in the US. The reviewer asked: why are you working on German, why not English? (To which my co-author replied: Because English is a bastardized version of German.)

And an Indian student of mine once went to a German high school to talk about her research on Hindi, and the school teacher asked, why should our tax money pay for work on Hindi? Why indeed.

It's as if any language other than the one right in front of you is irrelevant, and maybe (if these speech therapists are to be believed) even dangerous.