Paul A. Kolers
It would be a marvelous thing if we could persuade a machine to translate for us. Imagine giving a machine a document in a foreign language and having it returned to you in your own language, or having something you had written translated into any language you chose. A great many clever engineers have been trying to build machines that will do just these things. The details of human language are so complex, however, that the engineers have not yet been very successful. In contrast, people who know two languages find translating a very easy thing to do. But if ordinary language use is complex and difficult to understand, imagine how much more difficult it is to understand this phenomenon of bilingualism, the condition of people who know two languages.
Perhaps for this reason the study of bilingualism at the present time is little more than a small bump on the increasingly large body of psycholinguistics. Its smallness is in some ways unfortunate, for bilingualism offers us a distinctive way to study some of the mental activities underlying the way that people acquire and use information. Providing a bilingual person with information in one of his languages and testing him for it in the other enables us to study how the mind handles different kinds of information. It also enables us to separate skills in handling information from the content or information itself. Thereby we can learn something perhaps not otherwise directly accessible to study, and that is how certain kinds of information in a person's mind are tied directly to the language used in getting it there, while other kinds are not.
The study of bilingualism is, however, full of many compli-