There are times when I stop and realize the absurdity of academic texts. The degree of awareness needed to understand what you are reading – of the field, context and terminology – can be so high… even for a topic that may appear so innocuous on the surface, like bilingualism. It seems like a discussion on bilingualism should comfortably include vocabulary such as “language”, “words” and “jobs”.
So, I innocently pick up the special issue in bilingualism in the journal Applied Psycholinguistics (volume 35, number 5) and find myself sinking into a cognitive linguist’s dream-state of mambo jambo, such as in the following excerpt:
“It is even more interesting that these global switch costs are asymmetric in that performance is significantly more impaired when bilinguals engage in an L1 speaking block that follows an L2 speaking block, compared to the reverse situation, when an L2 speaking block follows an L1 speaking block (e.g., Meuter & Allport, 1999). Such asymmetries suggest that if bilinguals first speak in an L2-only block, they recruit executive control to globally downregulate activation of their L1 to maintain L2 fluency. Consequently, when they switch to an L1 speaking block, performance is lower than it would have been had the prior L2 block not been encountered. In contrast, when bilinguals first speak in an L1 block, there is less of a need to recruit executive control to globally inhibit the L2, as the L2 is less entrenched to begin with compared to the L1. Thus, when they switch to the L2, performance is the same as it would have been had the L1 block not come first.” (pages 860-861).
For the uninitiated, L1 refers to one’s native language and L2 refers to one’s second, or non-native, language.
I find that if I am not 100% focused while reading text like the one above, it loses me after I read too many L1s and L2s. Did you zone out partway through, too? At first, you think to yourself, “yeah, I got this, I am totally following this, if you first speak French, then speak English, it’s easier than if you first speak English, then speak French!”
But as you continue to read, you start questioning what you understand, “wait, but then if you switch back to English, no I mean, if first you’re speaking French, your brain needs to, wait…”
So I sit back, blink a few times and hope the brain reset button works. And try again. This time, it goes through and everything is clear. But I wonder, what kinds of hoops is my brain jumping through? Did I flip a cognitive switch?
Did I just downregulate activation of my L1* to regain L2** fluency?
Yes, yes I did. It is a magical academic-y jargon switch and I feel honoured and yet somehow slightly ridiculous to be able to switch it.
* everyday English
** academic-y English
Image credit: Alejandra Pinto