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 Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?

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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Sat 22 Sep 2012, 22:05

Starting with the question by manas teja in a thread at Historum

http://www.historum.com/general-history/47517-language-history.html

it deviated into other questions about the special status of multilinguists:

Message 7 from Jake 10:

Learning the language has a few effects on people. The emotions we experience change depending on the language we think in:
Quote: '+windowtitle+'

Furthermore, as we learn a language, aspects of the culture become part of us, and, therefore, provide deeper understanding of the people who speak these languages:
Quote: Kids show cultural gender bias

My reply of today:

"Jake,

sorry for the delay. I read it immediately and wanted to reply in depth with a lot of comments.

As I understand it I have with my three Dutch dialects and my four languages a chance due to the statistic of some five years more without Alzheimer...?

But perhaps we can start a new thread as this study is perhaps not fully related to the original post?

For instance I think if the distance on the language tree between two languages is big, it would be quite another study? For me with my many Germano-Latin languages it would be quite another challenge as with Russian, Chinese, Urdu or Greek? I have perhaps the difficulty of too close related languages, where many words are the same but are quite different in meaning according to which languages spoken? If the languages are completely different one has at least not that! inconvenient? Or perhaps are these difficulties of similar wording languages not that great while the same words with a different meaning in the several related languages aren't that many?"

As I know the multilingual Nordmann, I suppose it will be some ten years less without Alzheimer ...

Waiting, before starting any further comments, for some feed back from the local "Res historica" community...

Kind regards, Paul.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Sun 23 Sep 2012, 10:34

I have read somewhere that the number of people in the world who are limited to one language is actually quite a minority, though the precise definitions of fluency, comprehension, dialect and language itself are so hard to qualify that quantifying on any basis is fraught with difficulty.

I have always been impressed with the claim that a 12th century Dubliner, it was reckoned, spoke up to five different languages with no "lingua franca" imposed on them until the advent of English. Danish, Irish, English, Spanish and French were almost interchangeable modes of communication in the pursuit of commercial activity, as the records reflect. And nor was this unusual, especially in ports throughout Europe. Island kingdoms in Britain or elsewhere seem to have been no exception to this.

As to whether multilingualism delays Alzheimer's I cannot say. In my own case I have found that my brain seems content to entertain only two at any one time. A new one has always tended to push out another one, leading to a horrible period in the interim as one is on the way out, another in, and the result is a meaningless mish-mash which must make it appear to others that Alzheimer's has set in already.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Sun 23 Sep 2012, 11:07

I very much admire anyone with multilingual abilites, it takes all of my energy just to manage being (poorly) bilingual. Unless one is lucky to have a natural talent for languages, the best multilingualists are those who have been exposed to a second (or more) languages since birth.

Son's girlfriend has Spanish, Basque, English, German and is now learning Greek with effortless ease. What Greek has taken me (raised in a monolingual country) years to aquire she (raised with two languages) has learnt in the space of a few short months.

No idea either whether multilingualism actually delays Alzheimers but I can probably understand the reasoning, as languages keep the brain flexible and those with multi languages seem to have the capacity to remember a great deal more than those with only one language. In my experience anyway.
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Sun 23 Sep 2012, 14:06

I think simply keeping your brain active helps prevent Alzheimers. Having two or more languages would help. Doing crosswords or sudoku would be equally effective.
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Sun 23 Sep 2012, 20:46

It is considered that keeping oneself physically active is a greater help in warding off dementia, than mental activities.

A lot of dementia is hereditary, or affects people with certain genes that make them susceptible to dementia.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Sun 23 Sep 2012, 20:53

There was an article in this week's papers suggesting that a rural childhood doubles the risk of Alzheimer's.

http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/09September/Pages/Growing-up-in-countryside-doubles-Alzheimers-risk.aspx
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Sun 11 Nov 2012, 22:11

To the contributors of this thread...

I know, I know it is quite a while that I started this thread and to be honest, while seeking for some audience I included the Alzheimer in the title, which pointed to quite another subject than I had in mind Embarassed Embarassed..and it is quite natural that I could expect these replies focusing to the title...

But in fact apart from the title I wanted to focus on the way how a new foreign language is implemented in our brain, what the difficulties are to absorb a new language, when talking in the foreign language do we think then at the same time in these language? And other related questions...as: I suppose how longer you are exposed to and have practice of a foreign language how closer you come to the native speakers and how easier you can speak without stumbling upon a diifficulty where one as to seek into his mother tongue or in another known language...at least in my case...yes and I forgot the willingness to learn a foreign language, as for instance an immigrant, who is obliged for his survival to learn the native language...

I was a bit hesitating to ask this to the members of our forum as English speaking people seems to have a reputation? of not to be open to learn a new language, when in a foreign country...but it can be also a lot of gossip too...they say the same about the French and the Spaniards too......

But further thinking about the members I see now that a lot are involved in several languages...of course Nordmann, but also Nielsen, Meles Meles, Islanddawn (Therese), AngloNorman, Priscilla, Tas Khan, Casseroleon...on the first sight...Mad Nan?

In fact I made a paragraph a bit referring to these thoughts in the opening message of this thread:

"But perhaps we can start a new thread as this study is perhaps not fully related to the original post?
For instance I think if the distance on the language tree between two languages is big, it would be quite another study? For me with my many Germano-Latin languages it would be quite another challenge as with Russian, Chinese, Urdu or Greek? I have perhaps the difficulty of too close related languages, where many words are the same but are quite different in meaning according to which languages spoken? If the languages are completely different one has at least not that! inconvenient? Or perhaps are these difficulties of similar wording languages not that great while the same words with a different meaning in the several related languages aren't that many?""


And I see that in this thread Islanddawn has already in this thread pointed to some of the difficulties of learning a foreign language:

"I very much admire anyone with multilingual abilites, it takes all of my energy just to manage being (poorly) bilingual. Unless one is lucky to have a natural talent for languages, the best multilingualists are those who have been exposed to a second (or more) languages since birth.

Son's girlfriend has Spanish, Basque, English, German and is now learning Greek with effortless ease. What Greek has taken me (raised in a monolingual country) years to aquire she (raised with two languages) has learnt in the space of a few short months. "

If you ask my opinion I suppose that everybody has nearly the same talents to learn a foreign language but along the process practice and the willingness to learn are very important...and one has not to be proud to start with a lot of faults and rubbish as long as the interlocutor is able to understand "something" and as he, when Englishman, isn't immediately answered in English instead of Dutch as some Flemish do in Belgium...

Kind regards,

Paul.
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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Mon 12 Nov 2012, 06:03

PaulRyckier wrote:
But in fact apart from the title I wanted to focus on the way how a new foreign language is implemented in our brain, what the difficulties are to absorb a new language, when talking in the foreign language do we think then at the same time in these language? And other related questions...as: I suppose how longer you are exposed to and have practice of a foreign language how closer you come to the native speakers and how easier you can speak without stumbling upon a diifficulty where one as to seek into his mother tongue or in another known language...at least in my case...yes and I forgot the willingness to learn a foreign language, as for instance an immigrant, who is obliged for his survival to learn the native language...

Heavens Paul, a lot of questions and where to begin! Everyone has different experiences, of course, but I still think in English which, has proved a problem in learning another language and is a habit I can't seem to break. My children tell me they think in Greek even though English is their first language while Husband, pretty much raised with both languages since birth, thinks in both. And yes, I think that the longer one is exposed to another language the closer they come to fluency and without accent, whereas the later in life one learns a language the more difficulty one has with pronunciation and therefore accent.

Practice of a foreign language is indeed the key but also has it's problems. I began to learn another language when still living in monolingual Australia which was (in hindsight) probably a mistake. One, because there was virtually no opportunity to practice, which is absolutely necessary not only for fluency and learning but confidence in using another language is also important. Also the sheer speed of the spoken language in Greece itself literally blew me away, and I still cannot keep up sometimes.

And two, those Greek speakers I could practice with were not speaking the language like a native Greek still living in Greece. The Greek of those Greeks living in the Diaspora has become influenced by the country in which they live and not only in the accent. In Australia's case there are now whole words that have been added to their spoken Greek which are not used in Greece, a perfect and working example of how languages can diverge and evolve into something similar but also different.

PaulRyckier wrote:
I was a bit hesitating to ask this to the members of our forum as English speaking people seems to have a reputation? of not to be open to learn a new language, when in a foreign country...but it can be also a lot of gossip too...they say the same about the French and the Spaniards too......

Indeed a great many English speakers are of the opinion that English is the only language needed but, in my experience, this is merely justification for their own lazyness and arrogance. On the other hand, there are also a great many English speakers who aren't, who appreciate the necessity of languages and will willingly learn, or at the very least, make an attempt.

PaulRyckier wrote:
For instance I think if the distance on the language tree between two languages is big, it would be quite another study? For me with my many Germano-Latin languages it would be quite another challenge as with Russian, Chinese, Urdu or Greek? I have perhaps the difficulty of too close related languages, where many words are the same but are quite different in meaning according to which languages spoken? If the languages are completely different one has at least not that! inconvenient? Or perhaps are these difficulties of similar wording languages not that great while the same words with a different meaning in the several related languages aren't that many?""

Not sure if Greek would prove a great difficulty for you Paul, as the Latin or Romance Languages are pretty much based on Greek, which, in turn, is based on the Indo/European. So would say, Urdu be a difficult language to learn either? Unfortunately I can't answer that question, we really need a linguist. We've felt the lack of a language expert here before, perhaps we should advertise for one? Who was it on the Beeb who was a linguist?

There is a similar difficulty between English and Greek also, many words in common but meanings or nuances can change depending on which language used. Greek and English also have many French loan words in common, which again can differ slightly in meaning, and which both probably differ from the original French. It can get very confusing...

Sorry to waffle Paul, all I can offer is personal experience and some thoughts, not an experts knowledge.
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Gran
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Mon 12 Nov 2012, 06:28

Yes I heard this theory, and as I really worry about Alzhiemers because my mother had it. I just (try) to do a lot of things like sudoku and crosswords, not that good at it though. I only speak English but my husband was raised in Europe, he still has an accent but I know he thinks in English now because when he talks in his sleep its English!!!

The Continentals who learn English now seem to speak it without an accent, could that be to do with a new learning system?
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Mon 12 Nov 2012, 09:25

I've been told by good linguists that one is finally starting to get to grips with a foreign language when one starts thinking in the language, as it means you are then able to use expressions and turns of phrase, rather than just doing a direct mental translation. OK, so far, so good. And indeed I find that finally I'm starting to speak more automatically in French without mentally translating from English. But, BUT.... that does require me to be in French mode, as it were. I was recently taking a phone booking in French from a French woman, when, realising that I was English, she suddenly started speaking in fluent English. I was completely thrown off balance and had a real problem in continuing in English... my brain was still tuned into doing French and found it hard to switch over even to my mother tongue. For several seconds I couldn't think of the English and could only recall the French words and expressions. Maybe this is also perhaps because some vocabulary I have only learned or ever needed to use in France... so for instance I don't even know what the correct English for a calandreuse or a cumulus is.

I wonder how simultaneous translators do it: listening in one language while at the same time speaking in another.

And when switching languages it's not just the vocabulary/grammer mindset that needs to be switched but also the accent. If I'm speaking in French I find I use a French prounciation, even for English words, names and places etc, it seems that once my brain is switched on to pronounce, particularly vowels, a certain way, I have a real battle to temporarily flip it over to correctly pronounce an English word, even my own name or hometown, and so it comes out with a French accent.


Last edited by Meles meles on Mon 12 Nov 2012, 15:59; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Mon 12 Nov 2012, 15:39

Gran, English is studied in schools right across Europe now but it depends on a few factors as to how proficient they become. I think the Northern European children are better at English than their southern counterparts, namely because they begin English at an earlier age.

MM, I know exactly what you mean and do the same myself. When I'm in Greek mode I find it difficult to switch to English and vise versa, I reckon it is because I learnt another language at a later age. Husband and kids all switch back and forth between the two with effortless ease.
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Tue 13 Nov 2012, 22:06

Re: Message 13 November 7h03.

Islanddawn,

"Sorry to waffle Paul, all I can offer is personal experience and some thoughts, not an experts knowledge."

thank you so much for this expanded reply, which is exactly what I expected, not an experts knowledge, but the aswer how you personnally experienced the phenomena in your particular case...

As I suppose there are some general trends which will be explained by the language experts, but I think that each individual case is different as there are so many factors which influence the experience of the multilingual as there are upbringing, extravert or introvert attitudes, fear to make mistakes or not, pride, social status, and so on and so on...

PS: as about our language expert on the BBC. I have a vague rememberance that he had a degree in Germanic languages as he had studied Dutch...and his name had something to do with a Dutch name, I asked him once, but he answered it was coincidence...and I can seek of his name on the old BBC boards, but as usual such a backlog...and to be honest there are subjects that I more like to do...as yesterday evening seeking for a new thread related to the last one here on the classical music...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Tue 13 Nov 2012, 22:33

Re: Message from 12 November 10h25 (of course for the message to Islanddawn it has to be 12 November too)

Meles Meles,

thank you very much for your experience as about French.

"And when switching languages it's not just the vocabulary/grammer mindset that needs to be switched but also the accent. If I'm speaking in French I find I use a French prounciation, even for English words, names and places etc, it seems that once my brain is switched on to pronounce, particularly vowels, a certain way, I have a real battle to temporarily flip it over to correctly pronounce an English word, even my own name or hometown, and so it comes out with a French accent."

I made an honour of it to pronounce it as well as possible in the given foreign language as for intstance the Polish Krakow as Krakoof (but there you go to write it down, while the English seems not to have the shorter Dutch "oe" of "koe" (cow)....

You know that I am a Belgicist now, but when I was young the French pronunciation of for instance "Eisenhower" as "Essènowèrr" sounded a bit "hautain" in Flemish ears...the French speaking Flemish upperclass, who since 1830 had dominated life in the North of Belgium had perhaps something to do with it...yes and I recall all our conversations as from your Belgian friend...languages are still a complex problem in Belgium...and to go further on Eisenhower...perhaps that I dodn't pronounce it the right way too...perhaps as differing from the English, a bit the German way...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Wed 14 Nov 2012, 16:03

How much can the Reformation be blamed for the modern phenomenon of "linguistically challenged" European (and American / Australian / Canadian etc) cultures? I have always been mildly impressed by accounts of dialogue between different nationalities, as we would now term them, right up to late medieval times. Kings and courtiers conducted quite intricate diplomacy and negotiations on an international basis and yet we do not read much of the army of translators which would now be needed for the same nations to participate in interlocution where exactitude of meaning is paramount.

The only thing I can think of which fundamentally altered in the period was the standing of Latin as a lingua franca amongst the high and mighty, its demise mainly precipitated by the departure of huge swathes of population from the Roman church. Yet this in itself is an inadquate explanation - how, for instance, can one explain towns like Dublin or Great Yarmouth where it has been recorded by contemporaries that the citizens spoke with fluency in four or more languages as a matter of course? We know that their trading port status gave them the impetus, but can it be true that uneducated people en masse could so readily acquire multilingual skills which today can only be reproduced in the same towns through quite specific and thorough education and only in isolated cases?

Obviously it can, and one theory I have heard suggested is that both phenomena occurred when, contrary to wideheld belief now, there existed many pockets of civilization throughout Europe where the people saw themselves as "belonging" not only to their local system but to a much broader one which transcended political boundaries. It was a perception born out of trading across the same boundaries, but one which was hugely facilitated by the fact that Latin provided the same cross-boundary communication for the upper echelons and therefore all systems, regardless of type or location, were predisposed to think beyond the box when it came to communication anyway.

In that case the demise of Latin would have meant that the perception as a widely held one would also have atrophied from the top down, until within a few generations even the notion that one should bother communicating outside one's local dialect would have been one requiring effort to sustain on the part of each individual. It had lost its state, and then its communal, sanction.

It's a hairy theory in many ways, but since we know that trade across boundaries continued, it is the only one which seems to have any partial relevance to the demise of polyglotism in Europe that I can see. I am aware also that there many cultures in which bi- and tri-lingualism has survived for local political reasons, but will we ever see the day again I wonder when an average Great Yarmouther can freely converse in English, French, German and Danish? Or a Galway person in Irish, English, French, Spanish and Danish? I doubt it.
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Multilinguals have a better protection against Alzheimer?   Fri 16 Nov 2012, 23:09

Nordmann,

it's not always that obvious for a non trained mind as I am to follow the exact reasoning of your intellectual person, but if I understand the "yeast" of your sentences...

You said:

"Yet this in itself is an inadquate explanation - how, for instance, can one explain towns like Dublin or Great Yarmouth where it has been recorded by contemporaries that the citizens spoke with fluency in four or more languages as a matter of course? We know that their trading port status gave them the impetus, but can it be true that uneducated people en masse could so readily acquire multilingual skills which today can only be reproduced in the same towns through quite specific and thorough education and only in isolated cases?"

I think that we underestimate the capacity of uneducated people as in that time as even now to learn to speak a lot of languages through practice when openminded to it and when needed for their purposes if they were coincidentally in such multilingual environment. And yes this environment was many times a port town or a multilingual meeting point as an international hotel or a nowadays airport...

I give two examples of my own experience.

When on the car ferry Ostend Dover as a help in the restaurant I had a colleague who could perhaps barely read or write but by practice he could speak the Ostend dialect, English, French and German. Perhaps was it possible that he couldn't speak our official Dutch language that rightly...
My sister working for holidays in a tea room in Ostend, was after some four seasons quite reasonable in her English, French and German by the practice of the everyday talks with the customers...of course it wasn't the high brow language of the intellectuals, but quite understandable for the man in the street...

You said:

"Obviously it can, and one theory I have heard suggested is that both phenomena occurred when, contrary to wideheld belief now, there existed many pockets of civilization throughout Europe where the people saw themselves as "belonging" not only to their local system but to a much broader one which transcended political boundaries. It was a perception born out of trading across the same boundaries, but one which was hugely facilitated by the fact that Latin provided the same cross-boundary communication for the upper echelons and therefore all systems, regardless of type or location, were predisposed to think beyond the box when it came to communication anyway."

There you can be right. My approach would be that it perhaps depends from the perception of the value of one's mothertongue and of the value of the nation representing it. If one is a member of a small language community as the Dutch, the Finnish, the Danes to call but some examples, I suppose their members are much easier trying to learn the foreign languages they encounter as they want to be friendly and polite to the more international and global recognized languages? Of course at the same time is that a handicap to the global languages as English, Spanish and French as they meet some lower status languages that they feel not that obliged to learn those languages. Of course when an Englishman goes to France we have a problem...But don't underestimate the French as there are many thousands, (if I recall it well 200,000 French citizens in the UK?) in the UK, who are speaking fluently English...And those English people having a cottage in the rural France...

To come back to your paragraph:

Is it not possible that, to compare the former lingua franca Latin from the European upper class that is now for the moment replaced by the global English language, by the democratisation of life, where nearly everyone, even the lower echelons of society, are now educated in the new lingua franca, that the medieval comparison don't matter anymore? Everyone can stick to his local dialect, local standard language and in a foreign environment he can switch to his second language the global English? But I am still convinced to be embedded in the local culture, the close friendship of the local people one has to speak the local language...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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