Social Interaction, Social Context, and Language: Essays in Honor of Susan Ervin-Tripp

By Dan Isaac Slobin; Julie Gerhardt et al. | Go to book overview

24
BILINGUALISM: SOME PERSONALITY AND CULTURAL ISSUES

Philip V. Hull American School of Professional Psychology, Hawaii

Human personality is typically considered to reflect a person's "true" self or "core" identity, stable and unique relative to other measures of behavior over time. This concept of personality makes it difficult to envision a healthy person having two personalities. On the other hand, personality is also considered to be an attribute of groups and societies. Thus, people might talk about an "Anglo," a "Mexican," or a "Chinese" personality when trying to categorize the types of behaviors believed to be characteristic of these ethnic groups.

Susan Ervin-Tripp was one of the first to distinguish between COORDINATE bilinguals (those who have learned and continue to use their two languages in separate and distinct cultural contexts) and COMPOUND bilinguals (those who have learned their second language in the same cultural context as their first language). The Chinese immigrant who learns English after arriving in the United States at age 10 is an example of a coordinate bilingual, whereas individuals who learn a foreign language in college or from bilingual parents are examples of compound bilinguals. As Susan Ervin-Tripp further pointed out more than three decades ago ( Ervin, 1961), in switching from one language to another, coordinate bilinguals may also be choosing or shifting from one array of topics and/or meanings to another. Ervin-Tripp's pioneering interest in psycho- and sociolinguistics and her important contributions to these fields inspired the conceptual development and the execution of the research reported in this chapter. It is thus particularly appropriate to dedicate this chapter to her.

Bilingual immigrants continue to provide a very useful focus for research into the social and psychological meaning of language because immigrants often speak languages associated with different cultural systems. Many bilinguals report that they think and/or feel differently depending on the linguistic context. The research reported here attempts to determine whether bilingual individuals have access to culturally different modes of thought, and, if so, whether this implies the existence of two different personalities within the same individual, each associated with one of the bilingual's two languages. Two questions were particularly relevant to this study: (a) To the extent that human personality is learned, are any language-associated differences between verbal memory systems in bilinguals reflected in similar differences between dimensions of personality in bilinguals? (b) Should such differences exist, can they be tapped in the same way that differences in

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