Currently, I am at an Eng: 101 class at Emory University themed Multi-lingualism. The reading have had me reflect a lot on my own childhood. Our most recent reading was Trans-lingualism by Canagarajah.
I was born and raised in at town called Fort Wayne, Indiana. From birth to kindergarten, most of my days were spent with my Babka which is polish for grandmother and Dudic, which is polish for grandfather. My Babka, who is full Japanese, and used to teach Japanese songs, and we used to speak Japanese and English during my toddler years. After my Dudic passed away, she moved to Ohio. I only had the Japanese culture remain constant, as I was no longer in contact with her on a daily basis. After my Dudics’ passing, I would hear many stories about him as people reminisced his memory. They would talk about all of his work as a linguist in the air force. He spoke 6 languages and worked as an interpreter and translator.
Eventually, I forgot the language of my toddler years and could only remember small bits and phrases of Japanese. During the summer before entering middle school, Babka requested for me to sing one of the Japanese songs she taught me during my childhood. To both of our heartbreak, I had forgot the lyrics of my childhood.
Moments of forgetfulness and stories of my Dudic fueled my passion to learn Japanese once again and to study language in general. I began my serious studies of Japanese and linguistics at a university called Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) my junior and senior year of high school to study. After diligent work, I regained my fluency, only lagging in my writing skills.
In Trans-lingualism Canagarajah argues against the traditional view of language that multi-lingual competence is qualitatively different from that of mono-lingualism, and that code switching and code mixing required bilingual competence. He states that “bilingual competence is not always needed to code switch” (page 10).
I however, would like to challenge this view. During my polyglot conversations with my Babka, my monolingual friends do not understand the conversation we are having. They simply are missing the knowledge of Japanese to keep up, and it turns into a guessing game. However, if I am with another bilingual speaker and we hear people code switching in Japanese we have the background to understand the conversation fully. Although we may not know some vocabulary, our background of Japanese can help us understand the theme of the conversation. Needless to say, some of our elders in the Japanese community could see us as “incompetent”, and our linguistic insecurities may fester. Yes, there definitely is different levels of language skills. Bilingual speakers either grew up with the languages or worked hard to learn the languages at some. However, a multi-lingual’s understanding of meaning is different from that of a monolingual. They simply lack knowledge of the other language to understand the code meshing of the conversation.