Notes from a Linguistic Mystic

So, I stumbled across an interesting story on fark.com today (link requires totalfark subscription, as they decided not to publish this article). According to this article

Knowledge of more than one language has been linked by Canadian researchers to a significant delay in the onset of dementia symptoms.

Fluency in two or more languages may be able to stave off cognitive decline because of the mental agility required to juggle them in day-to-day life, principal investigator Ellen Bialystok said.

“How you learn the language probably doesn’t make much difference; how good your grammar is probably doesn’t matter,” she said last night. “What matters is that you have to manage two complete language systems at once.”

According to this study, being bilingual or multilingual seemed to stave off dementia for an additional 4.1 years.

I think this is truly awesome. I’m a firm believer in language learning for fun and profit, but this is icing on the cake. I’d be interested to see if this increase in non-demented time showed up when you compared larger groups of, say, Midwestern Americans (generally painfully monolingual) with Europeans in mixed language areas.

Mind you, this isn’t the first time that the health effects of monolingualism have been discussed. A few years back, a French language school (in France) ran ads featuring the following (tongue-in-cheek) voiceover:

In Japan, very little fat is eaten, and the heart attack rate is lower than in the USA.
In France, a lot of fat is eaten, and the heart attack rate is lower than in the USA.
In India, very little red wine is drunk, and the heart attack rate is lower than in the USA.
In Spain, a lot of red wine is drunk, and the heart attack rate is lower than in the USA.
In Brazil, people have much more sex than in Algeria, and the heart attack rate in both countries is lower than in the USA.

In conclusion:
Eat.
Drink.
Have as much sex as you’d like.
What really kills you is speaking English.

So, get out there and learn another language, if you can. Just think, even if taking it drives you crazy for four years now, at least you know you’ll get four years of sanity back later. Ahh, the wonders of language…


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