I have recently been thinking about plurilingualism and people speaking more than one language. To be more precise, what has been occupying my mind was the question whether adding a language to one’s repertoire might reduce one’s mother tongue skills. Could there be a certain link between being plurilingual and having poor and primitive lexis of one’s native language?
There seems to be some logic in it. You are not speaking your mother tongue while speaking another language. The time allocated to communicating, reading books or watching movies in one’s second language might weaken the grasp of one’s first language. Moreover, by using a foreign language in a certain domain you prevent your mother tongue from developing in that specific area and this way limit your own linguistic abilities. As a result, young people studying in the language other from their mother tongue might find difficulties to express the knowledge they gained in their native language. Another feature of plurilingual nature is code-mixing, “the presence of elements of more than one language within a clause” (Zuercher, p. 19). These elements are frequently perceived negatively and considered to be a representation of language impurity. Conversely, the more time you spend using your second language, the more is taken away from your native one.
Does it mean then that if we care about our language we should speak only that very language and learn and use no other than that? But blaming plurilingualism for your inability to speak properly looks more like searching for an excuse. Languages are like muscles that require workouts. If you are lazy or do not use your muscles they lose their shape and strength. And working on your side chest does not interfere with the physical shapes of your leg biceps. In this way, speaking Italian should not affect your Japanese as long as one is paying adequate attention to both. There are people who speak several languages perfectly and their mother tongue still remains rich and expressive in their use. Such skills are always the result of constant language practice. Not often though acquiring and practicing proper language occurs naturally. Sometimes it might take you efforts, especially with less suitable environment for it.
And what is your experience with plurilingualism? Does speaking several languages impact your mother tongue? If yes, how do you feel about it?
Zuercher, K. (2009). Azerbaijani-Russian code-switching and code-mixing: Form, function and identity. Arlington: ProQuest Dissertations Publishing