Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Bilingual thoughts


The question was raised about which language a person thinks in, for eg. Afrikaans and English and this really had me thinking…
Now, particularly in terms of Sign Language and English, and what I can do, and do not do with each language when it comes to thinking. So, how does and has  Sign Language shape(d) my thinking?
I know that English is my strong first language  and SASL is my second language, but I have such a soft spot for signing. This is because it is really my language as a deaf person, you have to be deaf to understand, you know what I mean. But, it was not always like this for me, and I suspect that there are many oral deaf who grow up not knowing the power and grammaticality/ sight-scape of sign language since they have not been exposed to its expressiveness from and through native signers. I used to have a problem with not being a native or native-like signer, no more, it is my second language. And I want to improve, and the best way is in dialogue with others who sign better than me. I know what I have and what I can have as far as sign language goes, and what I want to achieve, a bit more, then a bit more. Until the language becomes second nature to me all the time. It is in these moments when I let the language live through me it inspires me to do more give more, learn more, be more, you know what I mean? That is what it means to me to be bilingual, and finding contentment in the space between languages and thought. There are times when I think in English, such as writing this blog style article, and when I am in signing =thought mode and the way I see the world and myself and others shifts. It ll be good to tap into what this means and what it looks like and where it takes us as language users and teachers.  
One of  my students argued that ‘mentalese is the language that we use when we look beyond language to the heart of thought. Which is what the question was asking, what language are your thinking in? This goes along with Steven Pinker’s ideas on thought, and I am not in agreement with all of this. I know that SASL and English are wonderful tools for thought and carriers of thought, but these are languages, which encode their own knowledge systems or epistemologies that also shape the way the user, like me sees the world, yes it is complicated, and wonderful at the same time.

What do you think? And how do you think as a bilingual person? How does your first language affect your second? and how are you enriched in thinking by your second language? 
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