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What does it mean to \'speak\' a language?
Thread poster: Jacek Krankowski
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Aug 22, 2002

During this year’s census, the Polish government disallowed the question on the ethnic background but did allow the question: Do you speak at home any languages other than Polish? For the lack of the option “yes, occasionally” I checked the box YES and filled in English and Italian. Did I lie when referring to an occasional chat in those languages with my children?



A question to those who are familiar with my Italian: Do I have a lesser right to say that I speak Italian than, say, Italo-Americans who speak a dialect no Italian outside their home town/province can understand? Are they included in the figure of 1.3 million Italo-Americans who, according to the 1990 US Census, speak “Italian” at home?



Also, what does it mean to \"speak\" a language? I am always very careful about qualifying what languages I speak and to what extent. For instance, at the times of the Soviet empire, they made us study Russian at school for 8 years. I happened to become fluent in Russian, but that was 30 years ago. Do I “speak” Russian? I also can read Spanish because I took it for 2 years in college 25+ years ago (and I speak Italian). Can I say I “speak” Spanish? I have a degree in French but have not actively used French for 20 years. Ça ne s’oublie pas comme la bicylette? Wrong!



A Polish newspaper reported today that of the 150 (!) European languages about 100 are about to become extinct. Do you speak any exotic ones of those?



[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-08-25 18:30 ]


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Alison Schwitzgebel
Germany
Local time: 08:52
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
It's all in the adjective/adverb.... Aug 23, 2002

I would say that:



I speak English as my native language.



I speak German at a near-native level



I speak French poorly



I speak Polish very badly



Perhaps the Polish authorities should have phrased the question a little differently!



Alison


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 08:52
German to English
Well... Aug 23, 2002

Don\'t you think they meant to ask \"What is your native language?\" and not \"How many languages can you speak?\"

For example: my child is growing up bilingually here in Germany. She is going to a bilingual school. In order to determine which \"mother tongue\" language class they are put into, one of the questions asked is \"What language do you speak at home?\"


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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
The fine line (still for the Census purposes) Aug 23, 2002

In smalich\'s case, I understand, the answer to a hypothetical German Census question about any languages other than German at home would be: Yes, English (or whatever the language of the other parent is). Although that still does not tell me which of the two is dominant in your case: German or English, considering that each of the parents may choose to use his/her own when addressing the child.



Back to Italian: Does only speaking an obscure Italian dialect authorize you to declare that you speak *Italian* at home for the Census purposes?



Does anyone know why Italian comes 27 in the first ranking (http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb/viewtopic&topic=4685&forum=12&7),

with 37 million speakers, and 19 in the second ranking, with 62 million speakers?

[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-08-26 07:35 ]


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Klaus Dorn
Local time: 09:52
German to English
+ ...
maybe they're asking the wrong question Aug 23, 2002

Maybe they should be ask:



Which language do you dream in?



Born in Germany, I lived in the UK for 13 years and not only did I lose my German accent after about two years (in fact, it became an Irish one), but I also started dreaming and thinking in English, which I felt became like a native language to me at that point.



Due to my ability, I\'m accepted as a native speaker of both English and German in Italy and Turkey, where I teach these two languages.



I live in Turkey now and speak besides English and German French and Turkish (not to a level where I could carry out translations), but I think after maybe 10 years, I might start thinking and dreaming in Turkish...


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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
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TOPIC STARTER
Klaus has answered my question Aug 25, 2002

When starting this thread I was wondering about methodology re “Most spoken languages” (http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb/editpost&post_id=29316&topic=4685&forum=12) in the context of borderline cases like, for instance: Is Madeleine Albright included in the global number of Czech speakers?



Or another example: Of the 150 European languages, Skolt Sami is apparently spoken by approx. 500. Imagine 2 Skolt Samis emigrating to Germany and giving birth to a son. Assuming they keep speaking Skolt Sami at home and he grows up in Germany, is he going to be considered the 501st speaker of Skolt Sami? I know, in the world of mass statistics that would not change much. There still will be “approximately 500 speakers of Skolt Sami” around the world.



But things change when the scale of numbers changes. In the US, there are a few million immigrants from Poland. They are native speakers but are they “speakers” of Polish at all when they no longer speak that language at home? (Indeed, 12 yrs. ago, only 700,000 o them declared to speak Polish at home.)



Here is what this has to do with our profession: Do you automatically have a guarantee of quality in translations when you hire a “native speaker”? How about asking them about the current language of their dreams first?





[ This Message was edited by: on 2002-08-27 20:21 ]


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Lydia Molea  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 08:52
English to German
+ ...
To Jacek's last posting Aug 27, 2002

No, you do not have a guarantee of quality, only because someone is a native speaker. I grew up bilingually with German and Romanian in Romania, but I have lived in Germany for the past 10 years. Although I can still translate from Romanian to German, I lost my feeling for Romanian. Instead, I speak English every day. Therefore I trust myself a lot more translating into English than I would translating into Romanian.

And yes, I agree: dreaming is a sure sign that you have acquired what I call \"the feeling\" for a language.


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OlafK
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:52
English to German
+ ...
Difference between linguists and non-linguists Aug 27, 2002

Professional translators of Polish will probably keep up with developments in that language, at least I hope so. I live in Britain and go to Germany several times a year to keep my German from deteriorating. This is necessairy even though I read and write German all the time and I have German TV. The same is true for French, my third language. I watch the news, read papers, write emails to my French friends and go there as often as possible. Usually I dream in the language that I have spoken during the day.

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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
So, to speak a language means to cultivate it Aug 28, 2002

This is when the Translator resources forum comes in so handy!



Thank you all for your contributions both to this discussion and to this forum!



Jacek


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Araksia Sarkisian  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 08:52
Armenian to Polish
+ ...
Statistics and the languages....:) Aug 28, 2002

Jacek focused our attention at a very important issue: whether we are professional language users (eg. translators) or we are somehow multicultural \"cultivated\" individuals...

As a vivid example of the former USSR educational experience, my linguistic background gives me a rare (from the standard point of view...)opportunity to feel myself very comfortable in Armenia (Armenian was a state language), in Russia and CIS countries (Russian was the state language), in the United Kingdom and USA (graduated from an English school)and in many other former British colonies...and of course, in Poland (due to my residence now and my Dyploma thesis on Poland in 1979....

Based on my experience as a researcher on socio-political issues and dealing with a lot of statistical data in the opinion polls and interviews, census and many other forms of gathering the data about the population in general, one must always remember: these questions and our answers to them (counted in billions!!!) are melted so fast, that only the statistical data remains there and there is less consideration about the cultural or any sociological impact of the mass migration and language \"penetration\".

Let\'s think: WHO is going to analize the huge amount of these facts? And thinking of that, I would not be surprized, if the answer to Jacek\'s questions will be long expected...

Good luck to all.....!!!


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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Re: Do you speak Italian when you speak a dialect? Jan 8, 2003

The answer is: It depends on your methodology (and politics)



About languages vs. dialects see also http://www.proz.com/?sp=bb/viewtopic&topic=7514&forum=50



\"Where precisely does one draw the line between two closely related languages, for example? Serbo-Croat was counted as one language before Yugoslavia broke up, but now Serbian and Croatian are treated as separate \"languages\". Luxemburgish, Alsatian and Swiss-German are treated as separate languages from Standard German because they are spoken in three separate countries, but what about the other regional forms of German spoken within Germany and Austria, like Swabian or Carinthian? Do they not also merit the status of \"languages\"?



Even writing traditions cannot be used to define the limits of distinct languages. Whereas the Chinese speech-comunity covers several distinct spoken languages, in contrast to their common written form, the Hindi and Urdu of India and Pakistan are essentially the same spoken language, in contrast to their different written forms.



A linguist once suggested that it would be \"better to announce an exact fictitious figure, like there are 6789 languages in the world, since no-one knows any better and a precise figure will satisfy everyone!\" But such a modest guesstimate for the world would be on the conservative side in any case, since the Bantu set of languages in the southern half of Africa, to choose an extreme example, comprises a continuum of between around 250 and 1250 languages on its own, depending on how one chooses to define a \"separate\" language.



An unconventional way of counting languages would be to state that there are as many different languages as there are individual voices or communicating human beings alive in the world at any time, in other words a figure now passing the six billion mark. The opposite extreme would be to say that there is only one language in the world, the continuous linguasphere of human communication, as it might be viewed by an extra-terrestrial visitor. The difference between these two extremes is only the degree to which we accept variation within what we define as \"a language\".\"

http://www.linguasphere.org/what.html#dialects





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