26.3.16

LINGUISTIC BIOGRAPHY Corina Moscovich.

LINGUISTIC BIOGRAPHY
Interview with Edouard B. (77 years old): He was born in Poland but raised in Belgium; he is married to a Polish woman and he has worked in an international environment (in Germany and in Luxembourg).
Before the interview, I did some research about my interviewee; wrote and reviewed my questions, found a time and place for the meeting and recording, etc. As behind a mother tongue and any other kind of contact with a second or third language there is a real story, reason or need; during the interview I had to concentrate and listen closely to what my interviewee said about his life in his early years.
C (Corina): Bonjour Edouard, merci beaucoup d´être ici aujourd hui. (...) 1. L'affectivité de la langue: Quelle langue vous sentez-vous est votre langue maternelle? (Polonais? Français?) Pour quoi? / L´affectivité de la langue: Which language do you feel is your mother tongue? (Polish? French?) Why?
E (Edouard) : Le français. ... D’abord parce que j’ai fait toute ma scolarité dans cette langue; ensuite, tout mon environnement extérieur à la cellule familiale ... (amis, activités sportives ou culturelles), durant mon enfance, adolescence, âge adulte, s’est déroulé en français.
C: 2. Donner de brèves informations de fond pour comprendre lieu et du contexte de temps. (Biographie langagière) / Give brief background information to understand place and time context. (Biographie langagière)
E: Né dans la partie flamande de Belgique de parents immigrés polonais, j’ai commencé à parler le polonais au sein de la famille et aussi en dehors, car la colonie polonaise, très importante, organisait des activités culturelles et sportives, notamment en dispensant des cours de polonais aux enfants; ... j’ai aussi appris à parler le flamand dans la rue, je ne suis pas allé à l’école, car la guerre battait son plein lorsque je devais y aller. ... A l’âge de 7 ans, je suis venu vivre avec mes parents dans la partie francophone de la Belgique, et, rapidement, le français a pris le pas sur le flamand et le polonais, ... ce dernier n’était plus utilisé qu’au sein de la famille. J’ai appris la langue anglaise à l’école secondaire qui était une deuxième langue obligatoire ; je l’ai perfectionnée en suivant des cours du soir. ... Quant à l’allemand, j’ai été forcé de l’apprendre lorsque j’ai trouvé un emploi en Allemagne.
As Lévy defined the language biography as: “Forme particulière de récit de soi, la biographie langagière” (Lévy, 2008), I decided to open my interview with a question related to affectivité de la langue: “Which language do you feel is your mother tongue?” (question nº1) . This way, I allowed Mr. E. to start talking frankly about his experiences with languages. Certainly, when analysing the answers of my interviewee, I had to compare “natural bilingualism” with school bilingualism”. The first one is done in a natural environment without a specific training, while in the second one the L2 appropriation is done in a school environment, mainly through instruction.
To learn a second language it is generally a requisite in order to graduate from school, university, etc. In answer to question nº2, Mr. E explained: “J’ai appris la langue anglaise à l’école secondaire qui était une deuxième langue obligatoire; je l’ai perfectionnée en suivant des cours du soir.”
Then, Mr. E. defined his German as... “Quant à l’allemand, j’ai été forcé de l’apprendre lorsque j’ai trouvé un emploi en Allemagne.” In effect, the knowledge on certain particular domains can be technical (limited knowledge for specialized usages) or functional (capacity of using two languages with or without a plain ease on the exercise of a function, a defined occupation, etc).
C: 3. En temps de guerre, avez-vous utilisé un langage spécifique uniquement à des fins spécifiques? / In times of war, did you use a specific language for specific purposes only?
E: ... Pas que je sache, je n’avais pas 2 ans lorsque la guerre a éclaté et près de 7 ans à l’armistice. ... Je peux cependant dire que la concentration de Polonais avant la guerre et pendant la guerre était telle qu’il existait un comité organisateur des activités polonaises où mon père était secrétaire ... (il avait appris à écrire, contrairement à ma mère qui savait lire, mais pas écrire, elle l’apprit par elle-même lorsque je commençai à aller à l’école, après qu’elle avait plus de 30 ans), les autochtones flamands se sont vus obligés d’apprendre à parler le polonais, ma mère ne savait pas parler le flamand, c’était inutile, ... car les commerçants ou bien s’exprimaient en polonais ou étaient tout simplement des Polonais.
In this diachronic approach to Mr. E.´s life in central Europe, the concept of family (and friends) is a key one: it acted as a motor as a driving force so as to incorporate new knowledges and new identities. In the context of language learning, Norton has stated: “I use the term identity to reference how a person understands his or her relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future
(Norton, 2000).” Although Mr. E. did not give precise details about his linguistic identity (question nº3), his earliest memories of Polish language are closely related to the Second World War: “la concentration de Polonais avant la guerre et pendant la guerre...” We could appreciate that the Polish community in Belgium had an important role in trying to keep language alive, although historic and social circumstances were very difficult.
C: 4. Quelle décision de politique linguistique avez -vous fait au sujet de vos propres enfants? /Which language policy decision did you make regarding your own children?
E: ... Nous avons délibérément décidé de parler le français. ... Grandissant en Allemagne, les enfants auraient appris à parler l’allemand. ...Nous ne voulions pas utiliser le polonais (langue de la mère) afin de ne pas risquer de les perturber avec trop de langues d’une part, et, d’autre part, à cause du contexte politique général de l’époque où la Pologne vivait dans une dictature d’Etat communiste dirigée par l’Union soviétique. ... Avec le recul, j’estime que, sentimentalement, que c’est une faute que la mère ne parle pas sa langue maternelle à ses enfants qui sont alors privés d’une partie affectueuse que la mère n’a pu exprimer qu’artificiellement à travers d’une langue apprise.
Mr. Edouard B. was keen on answering my questions and sharing his thoughts about his schooling experiences in Belgium. Besides, he also identified some of these language practices in his own kids’ schooling.
As a necessary step when conducting social studies research, the interview represents a challenge, as both parties cannot know how everything will turn out. By answering “Which language policy decision did you make regarding your own children?”(question nº4), the spontaneity with which my interviewee connected geography, family histories and languages made me think the concept of translanguaging practice. Nowadays this term refers to a concept that goes beyond deliberate language switching in the classroom to embrace different practices of multilingualism, mostly considered within but not limited to an educational setting. Probably Mr. E. and his wife used translanguaging (Polish) to speak about topics they did not their kids to know about (couple stuff, money issues, etc). However, there seem to be some regrets about language policy: What would have happened if his wife had talked (and taught) to their children in Polish?
C: 5. Donnez une brève définition de l'importance de chaque langue (polonais, allemand, français, espagnol) dans votre vie. / Give a short definition for the importance of each language (Polish, German, French, Spanish) in your life.
E: ... Le polonais est une langue sentimentale parce que je l’utilisais avec mes parents et que je l’utilise quelque fois avec mon épouse et lors de mes séjours en Pologne, je le classe en deuxième position; ... l’allemand est une langue apprise à l’âge adulte que je domine au niveau de la compréhension et du parler, beaucoup moins pour l’écrit, il me servait durant ma vie en Allemagne et me sert encore lors de mes déplacement dans ce pays, je le classe en troisième position ; ... l’anglais, appris à l’école secondaire et perfectionné par la suite a été utile dans ma vie professionnelle, mais c’est une langue apprise, scolaire et non pratiquée journellement comme c’était le cas avec l’allemand, je classe l’anglais en numéro quatre ; ... enfin, le français est ma richesse personnelle pour ce qu’elle me permet d’exprimer le moindre de mes états d’esprit, je classe le français en première position. Je ne connais pas l’espagnol.
Mr. E. has a very clear picture of how and why he used and still uses each language. Although in some parts of the interview he gave me too much information all together, most of the data is relevant. Regarding content, in answering question nº5, Mr. E. opens up the most: “ Le polonais est une langue sentimentale parce que je l’utilisais avec mes parents et que je l’utilise quelque fois avec mon épouse et lors de mes séjours en Pologne”. He keeps the rhythm in his sentence; however I can notice a change in his voice due to emotions. In general, his voice is modulated but sometimes a bit low. It goes up and down, which makes his narration much more interesting as he catches my full attention. His speech is articulated, as he expresses his ideas and thoughts in a clear and effective way. Mr. E. gives his insight by using a simple and everyday language; he does not use many adjectives or adverbs.
C: 6. Vous considérez-vous d'avoir une identité plurilingue? Pour quoi? /Do you consider yourself to have a plurilingual identity? Why?
E: Oui, parce que je parviens facilement à passer d’une langue à une autre et à réfléchir dans chacune de ces langues. Je pense qu’il n’existe pas de traduction parfaite d’une langue vers une autre. Il est fréquent de rencontrer des cas où il est impossible de transposer une idée émise dans une langue vers une autre langue de manière identique. ... Ainsi, il m’est arrivé de lire des traductions françaises de romans anglais puis de lire les mêmes œuvres en anglais; j’éprouvais plus de plaisir dans lecture originale anglaise. ...Un deuxième exemple est le roman Anna Karénine de Léon Tolstoï que j’ai lu d’abord en français puis en polonais; la version polonaise m’était bien plus parlante que celle en français, probablement à cause de la proximité des langues russe et polonaise.
Within the process of learning additional languages, speakers may internalize different perspectives and, thus, restructure the thinking patterns they already have to describe events and scenes (Pavlenko, 2011). In a language biography, reflections on our attitudes towards language diversity and plurilinguism are crucial. When I asked Mr. E. if he considers himself to be plurilingual (question nº6), he answered: “Oui, parce que je parviens facilement à passer d’une langue à une autre et à réfléchir dans chacune de ces langues” (French, Polish, German, English). In this context, we agree with the concept of plurilingualism of the European Council, which takes into account the regional languages, the minority languages and the migration languages. In his linguistic biography, Flemish, Polish, French, English and German have played (and still play) a specific role.

REPRESENTATIONS OF LANGUAGES
We certainly have ideas about languages and cultures. Although we have received those images and ideas (mainly stereotypes), they vary according to the person. The social representations (RP) "ne requièrent aucun travail autre que l’acte de leur mise en œuvre énonciative" (Py, 2004: 8).
Besides, stereotypes about languages, countries or nationalities can be better understood by facing social issues, common fears, language rights, etc.
Globalization has an impact in the number of people who move around for diverse reasons. Originally, Mr. E.´s family (from Poland) migrated to Belgium searching new horizons (job opportunities) and when they did they found a new way of life and a new language. During his early years Mr. E. needed to deal with different people speaking other languages and who did not always dominate Polish. Therefore, in his linguistic experience, to learn French became urgent: there was an objective need to communicate in another language.
Learning new languages takes time and implies a great effort. Regarding the learning process, as we reflected in class, the goal of pedagogy and other social sciences is to go beyond the basic traditional knowledge of a language. Learners want to achieve a level which allows them to have a fluency in the language they are learning, making the learning (and teaching) process as much as experience-based as possible. This helps the learner to understand that not only the knowledge of grammatical structures is needed when acquiring a new language. To be able to speak a new language allows the learner to perceive other cultures in all their richness and complexities and to understand other ways of thinking and doing things.
Prof. Leo van Lier, in his book "Introducing Language Awareness” (1995) stated: "Language awareness can be defined as an understanding of the human faculty of language and its role in thinking, learning and social life. It includes awareness of power and control through language, and the intricate relationships between language and culture". Languages are also a mean to reach a goal and they present many angles. To be able to master our mother tongue and understand other ways of thinking and doing is key so as to see "from outside” the complexity, richness and social diversity of language. Because multilingualism keeps on growing constantly, languages and cultures become closer.
By increasing our own "language awareness” we will be able to understand our mother tongue or our own language "repertoire”. Although the focus on how to learn languages is more related to teachers and linguists, in a multilingual Europe the why has to be a main concern for politics, society, education, mediation and policy.
Considering and thinking language awareness paths (geography, linguistic diversity, economy, work demand, immigration) will help to build stronger links between languages and collective identities in different linguistic scenarios.
In psychology, sociology, and anthropology, identity is a person's conception and expression of their own (self-identity) and others' individuality or group affiliations (such as national identity and cultural identity). As Norton asserted: “biographical insights are important in understanding the relationship between identity and language learning” (Norton, 2000). In my interview with Mr. Edouard B. –through my questions and his answers– I consider to have covered vital topics related to a linguistic biography: schooling and family in connection to mother tongue, globalization, different kinds and types of language, translanguaging, language policies, language use, language strategies, language and culture, linguistic identity, plurilinguism, language awareness, etc.
We should identify how the language learner, in this case, Mr. Edouard B. understood his own world when he started to incorporate other languages. If we think in Bordieu´s terms (1984), Mr. E. is aware of his “cultural capital” and it looks like his identity as a French speaker is more powerful than his identity as a Polish speaker (son of immigrants).
Corina Moscovich

Bibliographical references
LÉVY, D. (2008). Introduction: soi et les langues. In G. Zarate, D. Lévy & C. Kramsch (dir.), Précis du plurilinguisme et du pluriculturalisme (pp. 69-81). Paris: Éditions des archives contemporaines.
Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change.
Harlow, England: Pearson Education.
Pavlenko, A. (2011). (Re-)naming the world: Word-to-referent mapping in second language speakers. In A. Pavlenko (Ed.), Thinking and speaking in two languages (pp. 198-236). Multilingual Matters.
Py, B. (2004). Pour une approche linguistique des représentations sociales. Langages, 154, 6-19.

van Lier, Leo (1995). Introducing Language Awareness. London: Penguin English.

No comments: