Bilingual Conversations

When I first moved to Montréal almost four years ago one of the things I noticed right away at work was how people whould speak french and english in the same conversation, even the same phrase. An english speaker would ask a question in english to a french speaker who would answer in french, sometimes they would then both switch to the same, a natural way of doing things.

Since then I’ve made friends with whom I always speak english, some of them are perfectly bilingual so we could just as well speak french. With other friends it’s the opposite, they also speak both languages but for some reason we always speak french and it even feels weird, “unnatural” to speak english with them. I dont know how that happens, might have to do with what we first started speaking when we first met.

At a YULBlog meeting a couple of months ago there was a french (as in France) guy who lives in New York and is completely fluent in both languages but he was impressed in Montréal to see people speaking in the way I was mentioning before, he said that he finds it difficult to switch, to him they are two different ways of talking and he needs to concentrate to go from one to the next. Coming to one of our meetings was definitly a good example for him, it’s a constant switch between the two, perfect french, perfect english, anglo accented french, franco accented english, un mot en français, quatre mots en anglais, 3 autres en français, etc.

Parties are also a good example, as groups change, as people come in and out, sometimes even as they drink more, the language spoken by each group changes back and forth, except for technical talk which seems to be english more often than not I’ve never payed attention to which kind of subject lends itself to one over the other, maybe I’ll start paying attention to that.

Sometimes I’ll talk french all day and then find myself thinking in english while other times (for example when travelling) I’ll be speaking english all day and think in french. Dont know why. Again, doesnt seem to be any specific pattern.

All of this to say that I’ll be spending some time reading through the load of comments already written on another popular kottke post where he asks a few interesting questions about the subject of “code switching”, might be fun to see the various theories and stories about how/why it happens.

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