Trentenaire

Suite à mon billet sur les quarantenaires mon ami Jean-Martin m’écrit: “c’est bien aussi de trentenaire (et pas de trentagénaire!) que je qualifierais une personne ayant de 30 à 40 ans… ». Cette pertinente observation mérite examen car, bien entendu le mot « trentagénaire » n’existe pas plus que les mots « vingtagénaire » ou « vingtenaire » !

Le mot « trentenaire » en Moyen Français (1330-1500) signifiait « un ensemble de trente jours ». Son acception usuelle « durée de 30 ans » est  récente .On la trouve pour la première fois dans la 7ème édition du Dictionnaire de l’Académie française (1878) avec le même sens que dans le Littré (1872, suppl.1877). C’est encore ce sens que donne la 8ème édition de 1935.

Cependant, les dictionnaires plus récents manifestent une confusion certaine. Tous reprennent le sens précité mais si le Dictionnaire culturel en langue française publié en 2005 sous la direction d’Alain Rey en reste là, le Dictionnaire historique de la langue française (1992) aussi publié sous la direction d’Alain Rey ajoute, comme le fait le Petit Larousse (2004), le sens de « qui a entre trente et quarante ans ». Le classique Robert ajoute également le sens de «  Dont l’âge est compris entre trente et trente-neuf ans » mettant en évidence l’erreur commise par le Petit Larousse et par le Dictionnaire historique ( entre 30 et 40 ans au lieu de entre 30 et 39 ans!).

Le Trésor de la langue française indique que le sens de « personne âgée de trente ans » est rare donnant un article du Nouvel Observateur de 1981 comme emploi. Ce sens est-il le même que  celui «  Dont l’âge est compris entre trente et trente-neuf ans » ? On peut en douter. Dans le dernier cas il s’agit d’une personne ayant  la trentaine alors que dans le premier la personne a 30 ans ni plus ni moins.

La diffusion des dictionnaires soit par internet soit par applications pour tablettes ne fait qu’augmenter la confusion. Ainsi, sur la page Conjugaison du Nouvel Observateur le sens « qui dure trente ans » est qualifié de « rare » et l’emploi comme nom fait l’objet du commentaire : « par plaisanterie la personne qui a trente ans ». La version électronique du Robert rejoint Conjugaison, traitant de « rare » le sens de « durée de trente ans », mais reprend le sens de de «  Dont l’âge est compris entre trente et trente-neuf ans » alors que le Larousse électronique limite le sens à la durée, tout comme le faisait l’édition 1905 éditée par M. Claude Augé l’auteur du Dictionnaire ( Larousse) complet illustré de 1889 .Cette version électronique omet ainsi sens d’âge de la personne que la version papier de 2004 du dictionnaire mentionne. Dans Wiktionnaire les deux  sens figurent alors que dans Wikipedia l’article « trentenaire » reste à créer !

Faut-il donc accepter le sens de « qui a entre trente et trente-neuf ans » ? L’Académie française n’étant pas encore arrivée à la lettre T dans sa 9ème édition, il nous faut l’attendre pour être définitivement fixé. Entretemps, vu l’absence d’autre mot pour ce sens, je crois cet emploi du mot « trentenaire » justifié.

Publicités

Quarantenaire ou quadragénaire ?

Dans l’édition du 22 janvier 2013 (Sports p.3) Marc Antoine Godin journaliste sportif au quotidien canadien La Presse signe un article intitulé “La fougue des quarantenaires » dans lequel il admire les prouesses de joueurs de hockey frisant la quarantaine comme Alex Kovalev ou comme Jaromir Tagr et Ray Whitney qui eux ont une quarantaine bien sonnée. Le mot « quarantenaire » pour désigner une personne ayant entre 40 et 49 ans est-il bien utilisé par M. Godin ?

Le suffixe « –aire » ajouté à un adjectif numéral dénote en règle générale la durée. Ainsi « trentenaire » signifie une durée de 30 ans ou qui existe depuis 30 ans. : le droit connait la prescription trentenaire. On utilise cette forme  aussi pour signifier un anniversaire : le cinquantenaire de la découverte de la pénicilline. Si les dictionnaires (Larousse, Robert, Trésor de la langue française (Tlf) et Dictionnaire de l’Académie française) nous donnent  des noms formés par l’adjonction du suffixe « -aire »  sur les chiffres 30,40, 50, 100, 150 ,200,300 400 et mille on peut s’étonner que le mot « soixantenaire » ne figure dans aucun d’entre eux  et que pour 70,80 et 90 il faille se tourner vers l’usage suisse et belge ou l’on retrouve « septantenaire » « huitantenaire » ou , plus rarement, « octantenaire » et « nonantenaire ».Notons que certains dictionnaires en ligne sans donner de sources ajoutent le mot « soixantenaire ».

Le mot « quarantenaire » utilisé par M. Godin est intéressant. A la différence des autres mots formés sur les adjectifs numéraux, ce mot a plusieurs sens bien différenciés. Le sens le plus ancien  attesté dès 1634 appartient au vocabulaire de la marine : le mot signifie « cordage qui sert à redoubler les autres »  (Trésor de la langue française, Dictionnaire culturel de la langue française d’Alain Rey). A la même époque, selon la 9eme édition du Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, le mot prend aussi le sens  de « qui dure  40 ans ». Au milieu du XIXème siècle, le mot « quarantenaire »  est utilisé dans le sens de  «  relatif à la quarantaine sanitaire, personne qui est soumise à une quarantaine, lieu assigné pour une quarantaine » (Dictionnaire Culturel précité, Robert et Larousse.).

Si Péguy écrivait « Le quarantenaire ne devient pas cinquantenaire, il devient historien » ( Clio ,1914, p.249) tant le Tlf que le Dictionnaire de l’Académie estiment qu’il ne faut pas employer le mot « quarantenaire » pour désigner une personne ayant la quarantaine mais qu’il faut lui préférer le classique « quadragénaire”. Ceci explique sans doute pourquoi la version en ligne de l’article de M. Godin a été corrigée, substituant « quadragénaire » à « quarantenaire » qui figurait dans la version papier vendue au public : http://www.lapresse.ca/sports/hockey/201301/21/01-4613520-la-fougue-des-quadragenaires.php !

Paltoquet

Du fonds de la Chine où il effectuait un voyage professionnel, mon ami Bertrand m’écrivit pour en savoir plus sur le mot paltoquet. Espérant que le mot n’avait pas été utilisé à son encontre, voici le résultat de mes recherches.

Paltoquet désigne un individu grossier, rustre, un homme prétentieux et insolent (Larousse).Le mot vient de paletot, vêtement grossier, donc indice de rusticité, porté par les paysans d’antan. La forme ancienne du mot paletot est attestée dès 1370 sous la forme paletoke (Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500), ATILF entrée »paletot »). Le mot signifiait un justaucorps. Par adjonction d’un-é final pour désigner quelqu’un habillé d’un paletoke le mot est devenu paletoké ou paletoqué (cf. Rabelais Tiers Livre XXVI) ensuite orthographié paltoquet. Ainsi, un paltoquet est un homme qui a les manières grossières du paysan.

Selon les spécialistes français (Rey, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française, Complément de Godefroy, Trésor de la langue française), le mot paletot est un emprunt au moyen anglais paltok =jaquette, mot selon eux, d’origine incertaine. Au XIXème siècle, l’anglais a réemprunté le mot paletot pour désigner un vêtement de dessus droit  unisexe.

En revanche, selon les spécialistes anglo-saxons comme Joseph T. Shipley (The Origins of English words : A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (1984)), les mots paletot et paltok proviennent de la racine indo-européenne pel-3b, pelǝ-, plē- signifiant une peau, avec l’idée de couvrir, couverture. Cette racine, selon J. Pokorny (Indogermanisches Wörterbuch) se retrouve en grec dans le mot πέλας `=peau et sa forme πέλλᾱς=fourrure est ensuite empruntée par le latin dans le mot pellis=peau de fourrure qui a donné pallium et palla mot signifiant une grande mantille de femme ou encore une jaquette gauloise (à noter que le mot gaulois plaid qui est dérivé de cette racine signifiait couverture en peau de mouton).

En français, la racine nous a donné, outre paletot, les mots pelisse et pellicule et en anglais les mots peel, pelt, pellagra, palliate et tarpaulin.

Le bon usage: “vicinité” ou “proximité”?

Dans un récent courriel, Antoine informait ses correspondants qu’il recherchait un restaurant « dans la vicinité des pistes de ski ».Si le mot vicinité évoque le mot anglais vicinity, est-il français ? Malheureusement il ne l’est plus mais ce mot, devenu un barbarisme, va nous permettre de découvrir les liens entre les mots vicinal, paroisse, ville, économie, œcuménique, vilain, et écologie !

En ancien français, c’est-à-dire, dans le français en usage entre la Chanson de Roland (1080) et 1340, le mot vicinité existait bel et bien, signifiant, depuis son apparition au XIIème siècle, « voisinage, proximité ».Le mot vient du latin uicinus qui signifiait « venant du même quartier ou du même village » .

L’emploi du mot vicinité est devenu de plus en plus rare en moyen français (1340-1611) pour disparaître complètement en français moderne. Il n’est pas dans la 1ère édition de 1694 du Dictionnaire de l’Académie française et le mot vicinal, qui désigne les chemins reliant les villages, n’apparaît la première fois que dans l’édition de 1835 ! C’est d’ailleurs le seul sens admis pour ce mot ! Auparavant, au XVIème siècle par exemple, c’était le mot voisinal qui était utilisé dans le même sens.

En anglais, le mot, emprunté à l’ancien français, fait son apparition vers 1560 pour signifier quartier, voisinage, sens qu’il a conservé encore aujourd’hui.

Le mot latin uicinus[i], dérivé de uicus =pâté de maisons qui venait lui-même du grec. οκος =maison .La racine proto-indo-européenne, u̯eik̂-, u̯ik̂-, u̯oik̂o- (*du̯ei- kṣayati) ,signifie maison, habitation elle-même dérivée de k̂Þei- racine reprenant l’idée de sédentarisation et même d’accession à la propriété ( racine kÞē(i)-, kÞǝ(i)-).C’est ce qui explique que dans les très vieilles langues dérivées du proto-indo-européen, comme le sanscrit ou le vieil hindou on retrouve des mots formés sur la racine vis dont certains signifient maisons ou habitation (víś-), d’autres citoyens (víśaḥ) ou encore propriétaire de maison (viś-páti-)[ii].

Du grec οκος est venu le mot p£roikoj = celui qui habite près de d’où paroisse et le mot anglais parochial =qui a trait à une paroisse, ainsi que les mots économie, œcuménique et écologie !

Du latin uicus est dérivé le mot latin villa qui signifiait d’abord maison de campagne puis village et ville sans oublier vilain !


[i] Rappelons à nos jeunes lecteurs qu’en latin la lettre “v” était prononcée “w” :c’est pourquoi les dictionnaires étymologiques du latin, et des langues qui le précédèrent, souvent substituent un « u » à la place du « v ».

[ii] A Proto-Indo-European Language Lexicon, and an Etymological Dictionary of Early Indo-European Languages,http://dnghu.org/indoeuropean.html ,une banque de données établie à partir de J. Pokorny “Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch”, corrigé par George Starostin (Moscow), A. Lubotsky sub nomine u̯eik̂-, u̯ik̂-, u̯oik̂o- (*du̯ei- kṣayati)

Valentine’s Day and the takeover of pagan festivals by the Church

The celebration of Valentine’s Day on February 14 provides us with an opportunity to think about the symbolism of the pagan festivals that were taken over by the Church.

Today, Valentine’s Day is the symbol of lovers, thus, indirectly, the symbol of fertility. According to tradition, Roman Emperor Claudius the Cruel had banned marriages amongst young people on the grounds that married young men were reluctant to enlist in the Roman army. Valentine, a Catholic priest, disobeyed the ban and continued to perform marriages amongst young people. Caught, and condemned by the prefect, he was sentenced to be beaten and beheaded. According to tradition, the sentence was carried out on February 14 of either year 270 or 278. In fact, the very serious Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that there were at least three St. Valentines all martyred on February 14 but in three different places!

 

In ancient Rome February 14 was right in the middle of the festival of the Lupercalia (February 13 – 15). This festival, marking the end of the Roman year, was a celebration of purification, health and fertility. It was celebrated in a cave, most likely situated at the foot of Palatine Hill, called the Lupercal in honor of Lupercus, god of shepherds. The ritual involved the sacrifice of a he-goat by priests clad in goatskins who then anointed two young men, of patrician families, by daubing them with the blood of the sacrificed goat whose skin was then cut up in strips. Upon washing away the sacrificial blood, the youths were to burst out laughing, dress in goatskins and then run, more or less naked, through the streets of Rome using the strips of goatskin to flagellate any woman desiring to bear child within the year!

 

The festival harked back to an even older ritual, one of spring cleaning called Februa, hence the name of the month of February. Thus, beyond purification, the ritual is also a rite of passage: the sacrifice in the cave is of course a symbol of death (remember the initiation rites in the Magic Flute) and the laughter outburst a symbol of resurrection while the he-goat symbolizes fertility.

 

In spite of the ban on pagan festivals in a Rome that had become largely Christian, the festival of Lupercalia continued to coexist with Christianity during several centuries. However, in the fifth century, Pope Gelasius the first (494 – 496) thought that, since the Lupercalia was at that time only observed by the rabble, the original purpose no longer warranted its continued existence. So, he decided to ban the Lupercalia, ordering its replacement by the feast of St. Valentine.

 

The setting of Christmas on December 25th is another example of appropriation of a pagan festival by the Church. The date was chosen to supplant the most important feast of the mithraic cult, that of sol invictus or Natalis invicti. The mithraic cult, widespread in Rome and in Asia Minor in the third and fourth centuries, celebrated by that festival the return of the sun triumphing over the winter night. In the Christian world, the setting of Christmas on December 25 occurred sometime during the fourth century. Pope Benedict XVI considers that it was natural to set Christmas on December 25 since it occurs nine months after the Annunciation! Given the number of Church Fathers who have thought that the relation between sol invictus and Christmas is established, we may wonder whether the date of March 25 for the Annunciation is itself either an arbitrary date or an exercise in bootstrapping: after having set Christmas at December 25 why not set the date of the Annunciation at March 25, nine months before!

 

Valentine’s Day and Christmas on not the only two Christian feasts that have supplanted pagan festivals. While there are numerous other examples, let us examine only two additional ones: Rogation Days and the feast of San John the Baptist.

The Rogation Days where instituted by the Church to appease God’s anger at man’s transgressions and to obtain bountiful harvests. In England, these days where known as “Gang Days » and “Cross Week », and in Germany as it Bittage, Bittwoche, Kreuzwoche. There were two Rogation Days: the Major Rogation Day on April 25 and the Minor Rogation Days which occurred during the three days preceding the feast of the Ascension. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Rogation Days « have been introduced to counteract the ancient Robigalia, on which the heathens held processions and supplications to their gods » for bountiful harvests and, in the case of Minor Rogation Days, for the avoidance of late frosts. In Rome, the Robigalia were held on the same days as the Major and Minor Rogations and the Major Rogation Day procession used the same itinerary in the city of Rome as did the supplanted pagan festival!

 

As a last example of appropriation, let us examine the one pagan festival that resisted for a very long time its supplantation by a Christian feast: the Scandinavian feast of the summer solstice on June 21. Today, the feast of St. John the Baptist on the same day has replaced it.

 

It is interesting, as well as enriching, to think back on the symbolism of the pagan festivals that have been supplanted by Christian feasts.

 

Crawfish étouffée, stop and stuff

Crawfish étouffée is emblematic of Louisiana’s cuisine .According to chef Emeril Lagasse étouffée in Cajun and Creole cooking refers to anything cooked in its own juices, sometimes with a little water added. The French word “étouffée” means “smothered, asphyxiated”.

What can link this form of cooking to the words “stuff” and “stop”?

The answer requires us to meander through time and space to observe how a Greek word “στύππη (stuppe)”, the coarse part of flax or hemp =oakum, tow, became “stop” in modern English and “étoupe” in modern French.

The Greek word [1]was borrowed by classical Latin (“stuppa”) with the same meaning then it changed meaning in Vulgar Latin when it came to signify a “plug” adding the verb “stuppare” formed on “stuppa” to mean “plug with oakum or tow”. The Germanic tribes along the Rhine were frequent users of this type of plug and borrowed the Vulgar Latin word forming the word “stopfôn”[2]. In Old High German as in Frankish this meant “stuff into, push in, put in”.

Old English, like Old High German descended from West Germanic, had a similar word “forstoppian” which meant “to stop up, plug, close”[3]. This word became “stoppian” and “stop” in modern English. The meaning of “halt” for the word “stop” is an English development, borrowed later by many other languages, dating back to the middle of the XV th century. For those who are young enough to remember the telegraphic style “Will arrive tomorrow STOP Meet me on the pier STOP”, the word “stop” here is an abbreviation of “full stop” which has meant “end of a sentence” in Britain since the Middle Ages. The original meaning of “stop” =plug is still found today in the word “stopper” as in bottle stopper.

The Frankish “stopfôn” was then borrowed by Old French: in 1190, the Old French verb “estofer” formed on “stopfôn” means “fill up, push in, stuff in, equip, furnish, provide”. The Old French meaning then evolved to that of “that which furnishes” i.e., “estoffe” which became “étoffe” =cloth” in modern French.

Old English then borrowed the word “estofe” from Old French:”stof” before the first quarter of the XIVth century was the quilted material worn under chain mail. Afterwards, later in that century, the word became “stoffe” meaning “cloth, household goods”. At the end of the XIVth century, in Middle English, the spelling becomes “stuffe” hence the modern “stuff”!

The Vulgar Latin verb “stuppare” became “estoper” in Old French, meaning “plug with oakum or tow, bring to a halt, close someone’s mouth[4].Under the influence of its Germanic cousin “estofer”, the verb “estoper” became “estouffer” in the XIIIth century, with the meaning of “smother, asphyxiate”. The modern spelling is “étouffer”.

The Old French “estoper” was then borrowed in Middle English to become “estop” and is the root of the legal term “estoppel” still used today.

It is only at the end of the XVIIIth century that the French word “étouffer” acquired the culinary meaning of “cooking in a closed vessel”, showing up for the first time in the 7th edition of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française (1835).

Just because today “étouffée” and “estoufade” are culinary synonyms and are similar in form does not lead to the conclusion that they share a common root. Indeed, they do not: “estoufade” was borrowed by the French from the Italian “stofata” meaning “cooked with steam”, a word coming from the “stufa=oven” from the Vulgar Latin “exstufare” which was borrowed from the Greek “tuphein” meaning “smoke, fill up with smoke”.

Thus, after some 5,000 years and meanderings across Europe, a Proto-Indo-European root steu̯ǝ-conveying the idea of tightness, of compactness is still found in its progeny , “stop”, “stuff” and “étouffée”, even if , at first blush, the kinship between the cousins is no longer apparent.


[1]According to Joseph T. Shipley The Origin of English words : A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (1984) it comes from the Indo-European root s(teue)=compact, to condense related to stei and the Sanskrit stupa. In A Proto-Indo-European Language Lexicon, and an Etymological Dictionary of Early Indo-European Languages, http://dnghu.org/indoeuropean.html , a database compiled from J. Pokorny’s “Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch”, corrected by George Starostin (Moscow), A. Lubotsky, the root/lemma steu̯ǝ- is given to mean “to get dense or tight” and is the root of the Greek στύππη `oakum’ from which the Latin “stuppa” comes.

[2] Some German scholars have posited that the root of “stopfôn” is not the Greek “stuppe” but a Germanic root “stoppon” related to the Latin “stupere” =to be stunned, dazed but all agree that the Vulgar Latin “stuppare” influenced in form and meaning the Old High German “stopfôn”: Chambers A Dictionary of Etymology R.K. Barnhart éd.(1988) p.1071. Ernout et Meillet Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine (4th ed.1959, repr. 2001) consider « stuppare » to be the root of « stopfôn ».

[3] Orrin W. Robinson Old English and its Closest Relatives, a Survey of the Earliest Germanic Languages p.12 (1992) J.R. Clarke A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary p.132 (4ème éd.1960). Note that in Old Frison stoppia meant “plug”, as does stoppen in modern Dutch. In modern French, the verb stopper still means “halt, repair a tear in cloth by darning”.

[4] A.J.Greimas Dictionnaire de l’ancien français (2001) sub nom. »estofer » and  «  estoper » et J. Picoche Dictionnaire étymologique du français (1992) sub nom. »étoupe« . Alain Rey Le Robert Dictionnaire historique de la langue française(1992).

Bilingualism: boon or bane?

In this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Guy Deutscher, author of « Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages », reviewed the current state of research to answer the question: » Does your Language Shape How You Think? » Mr.Deutscher gives interesting examples showing that language does indeed compel the speakers to express thoughts in a particular way or to provide the listener with certain information, whether about the gender as in French or German as opposed to English or about how the speaker came to know the facts they are reporting as for the Matses in Peru. Click here to read the article.

As the first bilingual French-English charter school in New York City, the New York French American Charter School, will open in September ,2010 we may well ask, following Mr. Deutscher’s inquiries, whether bilingualism shapes how the speakers think, whether there are any benefits, aside from the obvious cultural ones, to learning another language from the earliest age? Wouldn’t such bilingualism overtax the abilities of some children and render them less proficient in both languages? To answer some of the questions one may have about bilingualism, I did a cursory ,and wholly unscientific, survey of the literature in the last 3 years and share here what caught my attention.

What are the benefits of an early bilingual education?

According to studies of kindergartners done at Harvard by Prof.Silverman[1] pupils who speak another language at home and who learn English as a second language acquire a general vocabulary in English at a faster rate than English-only pupils of the same age.

Early bilinguals are able to learn another language faster than monolinguals and are better able to learn new words in their own language as shown by Viorica Marian and Margarita Kaushanskaya, professors of communication science at Northwestern University[2].

Professors Marian and Kaushanskaya’s research also answers a question many parents have when deciding whether to educate their children bilingually: will bilingual education confuse or slow down my child’s learning? In their article « Bilingualism reduces native-language interference during novel-word learning »[3], they show that bilinguals are better able than monolinguals to filter out « noise »-irrelevant information- when learning a new language.Accordingly, bilingual education from an early age helps rather than hinders a child’s development.

Parents may be wondering if it is worth going to the trouble of providing an early bilingual education to their offsprings if the child then loses the second language through lack of use. Recent research by Bristol University researchers[4] suggests that people who were exposed to another language when young not only relearn the forgotten language more rapidly but retain the ability to pronounce difficult sounds of the second language. They used Hindi and Zulu as second languages because these languages have phonemes –sound units- that are very difficult for native English speakers to recognize and reproduce. They found that the subject quickly relearnt to recognize and pronounce those foreign phonemes. We have all observed cases of people who lost a language learnt as a child who, when relearning it as adults, are able to pronounce it like native speakers.

Monolingual education of children from homes where another language is spoken has another very real negative impact on the construction of the child’s identity, language learning and critical thinking development as Elena Constantinou, doctoral student at the University of Leicester showed in her June 24,2010 presentation « Exclusion of mother tongue problematises identity construction » at the Festival of Postgraduate Research of the University[5].

How early should bilingual education start?

The short answer is as early as possible, even during pregnancy! As shown by psychologists Krista Byers-Heinlein, and Janet Werker (University of British Columbia) and Tracey Burns of the OECD who studied mothers speaking both English and Tagalog during pregnancy[6] and mothers who spoke only English, monolingual babies were only interested in English whereas bilingual babies showed no preference for one language or the other suggesting that those infants have a predisposition for bilingual learning.

Their research showed also that infants are able to discriminate between the two languages and to keep them apart. This research extends the earliest age at which infants can tell apart two languages. A previous study showed that 4- and 6-month-old infants can discriminate languages (English from French) just from viewing silently presented articulations. By the age of 8 months, only bilingual (French-English) infants succeed at this task.[7]

Bilingualism’s impact on brain structure and use of brain resources

« Can early language exposure modify neural tissue? Does extensive and maintained exposure to two languages from early life leave a « bilingual signature » on the human brain? How do bilinguals avoid confusing their two languages as they rapidly process their languages and /or move from one language context to another? Do early proficient bilinguals process language differently from monolinguals and recruit different neural tissue across all contexts, including one language at a time and two languages in rapid alternation?[8] Or do such bilinguals process language similarly to monolinguals and recruit similar neural tissue but not across all contexts?[9] » These are the questions that Professor Ioulia Kovelman and her co-workers set out to answer using novel neuro-imaging techniques[10].Her conclusions are well worth quoting in full:

« Early and extensive dual language exposure appears to have an impact on how the bilingual brain processes language within classical language areas (IFC, BA) as well as brain areas that support language processing (DLPFC, BA46/9 and IFC BA 47/11).The overall implication is that this neural change is entirely positive-bilinguals can read and listen to semantic information in each of their languages with the same effectiveness as monolinguals. The bilingual brain also develops mechanisms that allow for successful processing of two languages concurrently in a bilingual mode. We therefore hope that scientists, educators and bilingual policymakers, alike, will take notice of the present findings-especially those who decide on educational settings for the nation’s young bilinguals and whether early bilingual language learning as a child harms one’s dual language, reading, and cognitive processing as an adult. To be sure, we found no evidence of harm and instead found evidence that the bilingual brain processes each of the two languages with the aplomb of a monolingual brain processing one. »[11]

These results were confirmed in a study carried out by Professor Ibrahim of the Department of Learning Disabilities of Haifa University[12] who investigated whether one or both languages of an Arabic-Hebrew bilingual individual are disrupted following brain damage. In this case, his investigation led to the conclusion that the Arabic and Hebrew language capabilities of the patient resided in two different areas of the brain even though the two languages are semantically very close.[13]

Are there any benefits of bilingualism in adulthood?

Indubitably yes. Indeed, Alzheimer’s has been shown by Prof. Bialystok to be delayed by an average of four years in bilinguals versus monolinguals[14].Similarly, Dr.Gilit Kavé and her co-workers at the Herczeg Institute on Aging at Tel Aviv University have shown that senior citizens who speak several languages show less mental aging than monolinguals: the more languages you speak the better your cognitive states are when you get older. The study was conducted on people between the ages of 75 and 95.[15]

Last, but not least, according to a 2009 report by research team appointed by the European Commission entitled « The Contribution of Multilingualism to Creativity »[16], click here to read the Report, multilinguals show superior performance in handling complex and demanding problem-solving tasks, higher creativity and mental flexibility compared to monolinguals.

©2010 Pierre F. de Ravel d’Esclapon


[1]Elementary School Journal, 107(4), 365-383 (2007): Rebecca Deffes Silverman: »Vocabulary Development of English-Language and English-Only Learners in Kindergarten ».

[2] « The Bilingual Advantage in Novel Word Learning » (2009) Psychonomic Bulletin & Review,   16, 705-710.

[3] J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. 2009 May; 35(3):829-35.

[4] J.Bowers,S.Mattys and S.Gage « Preserved Implicit Knowledge of a Forgotten Childhood Language » Psychological Science 2009;20(9):1064

[5] http://www2.le.ac.uk/ebulletin/news/press-releases/2010-2019/2010/06/nparticle.2010-06-09.4016247525. While her research focused on children whose home language is the Cypriot dialect, her findings should apply to other communities as well.

[6] Byers-Heinlein, K., Burns, T.F., & Werker, J.F. ( 2010). « The roots of bilingualism in newborns ». Psychological Science, 21(3), 343-348,(2010) doi: 10.1177/0956797609360758

[7]« Visual Language Discrimination in Infancy » Whitney M. Weikum, Athena Vouloumanos, Jordi Navarra, Salvador Soto-Faraco, Núria Sebastián-Gallés, and Janet F. Werker Science 25 May 2007:Vol. 316. no. 5828, p. 1159 DOI: 10.1126/science.1137686.

[8] The neuroscientists refer to this as the Neural Signature Hypothesis

[9] This is the so-called Functional Switching Hypothesis.

[10] « Shining New Light on the Brain’s « Bilingual Signature »: a Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy Investigation of Semantic Processing » I. Kovelman, M.H. Shalinsky, M.S.Berens and L.Petitto  Neuroimage 39(2008) 1457-1471.To read the article click here.Interested readers may also enjoy her other papers:« Age of first bilingual language exposure as a new window into bilingual reading development« Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 11 (2), 2008, 203–223 ; »Dual language use in sign-speech bimodal bilinguals: fNIRS brain-imaging evidence« Brain & Language 109 (2009) 112–123;L.Petitto « New Discoveries From the Bilingual Brain and Mind Across the Life Span: Implications for Education »MIND, BRAIN, AND EDUCATION vol.4

[11] Id.p.1468.

[12] « Selective deficit of second language: a case study of a brain-damaged Arabic-Hebrew bilingual patient » Behavioral and Brain Functions 2009, 5:17doi:10.1186/1744-9081-5-17

[13] Interested readers will benefit from studying the literature quoted in Professor Ibrahim’s footnotes.

[14] « Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia » Bialystok E., Craik F.I. & Freedman M. Neuropsychologia 45(7),2007 ,459-464

[15] Kavé, G., Eyal, N., Shorek, A., & Cohen-Mansfield, J. (2008). Multilingualism and cognitive state in the oldest old. Psychology and Aging, 23(1), 70-78.

[16] EC Public Service Contract No EACEA/2007/3995/2 16 July 2009