Thursday, June 25, 2015

Word Woes of the Multilingual and Unknown

One of the things I've noticed over the years is that my spelling has gotten worse. I've come up with various explanations, like age or lack of sleep or the disconnect between brain and fingers while typing, but even taking notes by hand I find myself misspelling things I never would have before. It's disconcerting for someone who prided herself on her spelling and proofreading abilities!

Recently, however, I've come up with another theory, and I think I may be on to something. I think it has to do with the number of languages I've studied and my increasing awareness of phonology. In English, especially, there are so many different ways that a sound could be spelled that sometimes I am no longer automatically sure what's right.  The other day I was playing Words with Friends and was trying to figure out what I could play. I thought of the word "raze" which I knew was spelled differently from "raise" but I couldn't immediately remember how it was spelled! I ran through various combinations in my head for the /a/ sound and the /z/ sound and finally settled on "raze."

Then, yesterday, I did a duolingo placement quiz because my daughter had told me that they finally offered Swedish. I had to type a sentence that said, "The man is drinking coffee" and I actually thought - wait, how is coffee spelled in Swedish? C or K? O or A? One or two Fs? One or two Es? I know the word coffee in English, Spanish and French (café), German (Kaffee), and Swedish and it's all slightly different! After a little thought, I settled on kaffe and was right.

I used to be surprised when I saw multilingual, intelligent people spell easy words wrong, but now I think I understand: when a similar word is spelled differently in your languages, it's really hard to keep track! And (gasp) it's not really that important. If I had spelled coffee "kaffee" in Swedish, I would have been told I had a typo by duolingo, but it's not like it would impede communication. So maybe multilingualism is good for my perfectionism? Or is it a symptom of my perfectionism?

An additional note, and this might be something for me to research later about bilinguals and multilinguals, is that when I'm playing Words With Friends, I cannot turn off the other languages I know and it's rather annoying. I will see a word I can play and then realize it's not an English word. The other day I had played "teat" and then realized I could make "teatro" from it and was all set to play that when I realized that "teatro" is Spanish. Again, not really that important, but interesting nonetheless (to me, anyway).

(insert pithy, clever conclusion here, whenever one comes to mind)

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