Thursday, October 11, 2007

Child triglossia: an anecdote

While I was in Algeria, I was watching a cousin's toddler play with one of those toy computers that play a word when you press on a letter. The words, in this case, were in Arabic - Fusha (Classical), of course. Several times she repeated after the machine and then, with a very emphatic tone, added the Darja (Algerian dialect) translation - for example:

Machine: qird (monkey)
Toddler: qird! šadi!

Then she got to "bird" (Arabic ṭā'ir) and came out with the memorable line:

ṭā'ir! u b-əṛ-ṛumiyaa nqulu-lu ḷa ṭa'ir.
(ṭā'ir! And in French we call it ḷa ṭa'ir.)

Gets you wondering, really... how do kids acquire di/triglossia? It's certainly not just a matter of what they learn in school, as this case illustrates.


Anonymous said...

Then let me supply my case. Standard German is the language of the TV and of all (writing and) reading, including reading aloud. When we played Ghostbusters or Ninja Turtles (around the age of 8, IIRC), we automatically switched to Standard German, because of the TV series and the comics. The dialect has its own grammar, syncope and apocope all over the place, and a quite different vowel system, so the two registers are easy to tell apart.

Does that help?


French? I guess there's Arabic and there's French, and someone had called Fuşħa "Arabic" without qualification, so, by logic... Is that imaginable?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Interesting. I haven't seen full switching like that in Algeria - that would require a greater command of the standard language than most kids have at that age - but you do certainly get kids trying to use a certain amount of Fusha in reenacting cartoons.

"la ta'ir" isn't Darja, I should clarify: it's a Fusha word with a French article stuck on the beginning. Presumably she had noticed how common la was in French noun phrases and somehow decided that la was just a marker of Frenchness that could be added on to any unfamiliar noun to turn it into French.

Anonymous said...

[...] I should clarify: [...]

Oops. :-]

Unknown said...

The different stages of language acquisition and language(s) mastery in trilingual children is a great subject for funny and interesting anecdotes, so here is mine:
my children are 4 and are juggling English, Italian and French. It seems to me that they are distinguishing the three languages better and better with time but they still come up with very interesting inventions.
One very good example (from around a year ago, when they were 3):

(mixed invented language)'sto cachendo'
(English) 'I am hiding'
(Italian) 'Mi sto nascondendo'
(French) 'Je me cache'

Here they selected the French verbal root 'cach-'(hide)and combined it with the Italian gerundive form 'sto -endo' to mark present progressive (1st sg). They also selected the English non-reflexive property of the verb 'to hide' (meaning to hide oneself). Note that this verb is reflexive in both Italian and French.
It would be really interesting to determine why these choices are made, the process doesn't seem to be random at all... what is it that makes these forms acceptable to both children?
Also, as twins, they keep using forms like this one with each other, so this is not a 'one off' corrected by an adult and forgotten about...sometimes I wonder if I should start using it too! :)

PS really nice blog Lameen, best of luck and see you soon!

Anonymous said...

Je ùm'excuse j'ai du mal à pouvoir rédiger mon comment en anglais, toutefois j'ai bien saisi la problématique exposée par lameen et sur ce je vais vopus raconter une anecdote je ne sais pas si elle est réélle ou pas: il y a quelques temps toutes les télévision arabe se sont engouées par le feuilletons mexicains doublés en arabe fusha, il s'agit donc d'un gamin qui fait sa première rentrée à l'école, à sa sortie, sa maman qui l'attendait devant l'école lui pose la question sur sa rentrée, sa classe sa maîtresse etc... Le gamin tout excité lui répondît que sa maitresse est magnifique et qu'il en est content d'autant qu'elle s'adressait à eux en méxicain!
Bien sûr il prenait l'arabe fasih pour du méxicain!!!!