Dreaming in Different Tongues
click image to open video page
Video page URL

Languages and the way we think.


Alix Schwartz: Good evening everyone. My name is Alix Schwartz. I coordinate the On the Same Page program for the College of Letters and Science, and on behalf of our dean, several of whom are here, I would like to welcome you to this our keynote event for On the Same Page, 2011. For those of you who don't know what On the Same Page is, I'm just going to give a little brief overview. The main goal of On the Same Page is to pick a book or a theme or a film or something that all of our new students and all of our faculty will all experience so they'll have something in common intellectually when our students first get here. And by extension we want to include the whole Cal community. This year's theme is the voices of Berkeley linguistic diversity. I'm super excited about this theme, not only because it spans so many disciplines and therefore engages so many faculty and students, but also because it inspired a dedicated group of faculty, many of whom are sitting right here to really work hard on
this program, and I think it's the richest program we've had because of it.

I'm also excited because we had an experiment this year with our students. How many of you heard about the start by talking back experiment? Raise your hand. Okay. Quite a few of you did. Professor Keith Johnson who is here tonight did an experiment with our students, our new students. Invited them to submit a voice sample and over seven of those voice samples are mapped on a Google map that any of you can see on our website. It's really fascinating to see where our students come from and how they sound and who they sound like. There are a lot of fun things to do with the map and I think you'll enjoy it. I was wondering if all the new students can raise your hands.

>>: Freshmen.

Alix Schwartz: Yay. Whoa. This is literally the most new students we've ever gotten to an On the Same Page event. Thank you so much for coming. [Applause] okay. I also wanted to let you know about the remaining On the Same Page activities and events that are still coming up. Tomorrow we have a fascinating discussion panel called a discussion of language and mind. That will be at 3:30 p.m. in 315 Wheeler. I really encourage you to come. It's again free and open to everyone. You'll also find on our site a link to information on four wonderful events that the Berkeley Language Center has coming up in the next couple of months. The Berkeley Language Center has been a very active and very appreciated partner this year.

Also, the Berkeley Art Museum has been a partner. We have a special exhibit. The artist, Theresa Cha, when she was an undergraduate here at Cal did a video installation about being in exile from her home in Korea and her home language. It's only an eight-minute video and it's really worth going to see. Finally for all the undergraduates in the audience I wanted to remind you we have a one minute video contest still going on. The student who best captures linguistic diversity in a one minute video on your cell phone or video camera, however you want, will win an iPad two. The second place is a Kindle. The deadline to submit your videos. [Laughter]
what's so funny about the second place? [Laughter] okay. First prize is a Kindle. [Laughter] okay. I love my Kindle. Did you guys go to the new media panel? Come on. The deadline to submit is October 3rd. I want to let you know that On the Same Page is made possible by donors to the L and S leadership fund and cosponsored this year by the departments of English and comparative literature and the Cal Student Store. At this point it gives me great pleasure to introduce our moderator for tonight's event who will in his turn introduce the other remarkable panelists. For many of you professor Geoff Nunberg's voice may be more familiar than his face. His regular commentary on language on NPR's Fresh Air never fails to entertain and edify us. We are fortunate to have him on the faculty of UC Berkeley's, sorry, school of information. His most recent book is the years of talking dangerously and you may also have heard of the book before that one, Talking Right, How Conservatives Turned Liberalism Into a Tax Raising Latte Drinking, Sushi Eating Volvo Driving, New York Times Reading, Body Piercing, Hollywood Loving Freak Show [Applause]. Whew. We were delighted when he agreed to moderate our keynote event. Please join me in welcoming Geoff Nunberg in tonight's distinguished panel. [Applause].

Geoff Nunberg: Thank you, Alix. Good evening. Bonsoir, buona sera, guten abend. Somebody help me. Andrew, where is Andrew Garret? Can you not hear me? Andrew. That's Yurok? Yurok is a California Indian language. Dan Slobin from Turkey. Somebody else give me some help. Over here. From what language is that? Greek. And over here. Lithuanian. Wow. Back there. [Laughter]. That's Chinese. Others. Over here? Buenas noches. Yay. Over there. Russian. Over here. Armenian. Others way back there in the back. Swahili. Over here. I'm sorry? Farsi. Let's take 1 or 2 more. Over there. Hebrew. And way, way, way in the back over there. And that is? Hindi. We could go on at some length I think. And you know why? Because this is Berkeley. And what's an unusual relatively unusual situation here is in fact in most of the world
and for most of history the normal state of affairs.

Most places, in most places all over the world most people have always spoken more than one language. And in fact it's only in recent times that you could have this attitude that you sometimes find in parts of America that there's something odd or even disloyal about speaking more than one language. You know, there's a story about Ma Ferguson who was the governor of Texas in the 1920s who was said to have said, if English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me [Laughter]. I don't know if she ever said that, but it's certainly an attitude that people have in this country. And it's one that comes up a lot in modern political discourse, one of the things we'll be talking about. The other thing about multilingualism, bilingualism is how often it comes up in the academic world. I tried to make a list of all of the programs and departments at Berkeley in which multilingualism might come up in one or another way. Psychology, literature and linguistics, languages, area studies like Middle Eastern studies, cognitive science, sociology, anthropology, political science, education, media studies, history, even computer science and information studies. And I probably left some out. So the odds that any of you, the freshmen in any event will get through your Berkeley career without at one point or another having to study or think about multilingualism are negligible. We would love to have been able to put together a panel in which we deal with all of these aspects of multilingualism. It would have taken a long time and there wouldn't have been enough chairs frankly.

What we've done instead is to bring together four people, all of them distinguished who can speak to one or another aspect of this remarkably protean phenomenon and what I would like to do is introduce each of them alphabetically and then ask them all to come out and we can greet them together. Let me start with Lera Boroditsky. Let me ask you before I start with Lera.
Let me do a little experiment. Would all of you close your eyes, no cheating. You back there close your eyes. And point southeast. Okay. You can open your eyes now. [Laughter]. We're going to ask Lera why that's interesting. Why a room full of students at one of the great universities in the Western world is incapable of pointing to the southeast. The question of the way in which language influences thought is one that linguists and psychologists and philosophers have dealt with for a very long time. Is thought kind of universal and is language merely a matter of packaging? Or does the language we speak actually influence the way we see the world, talk about the world, think about the world. This is a subject that only recently psychologists in particular have begun to be able to study. They can ask questions like, does it matter that in German the moon is he, in French it's she, in English it's it? Does it matter that some languages have one word for blue-green? And other words have different words for blue and green? Does it matter that in English we make between I'm going and I go and other languages don't make that distinction? Recently there have been psychologists who've actually been able to deal with this as an empirical experimental question. Some of them are here, Dan Slobin from our department. And Lera Boroditsky, a young psychologist, has become very well known for her work in this area. She is unfortunately at a college across the bay in Palo Alto [Laughter] Stan, it's a very good school and don't let anybody tell you differently. But we're very honored to have her here. She's an assistant professor there. Did her graduate work, Ph.D. work there as well. Taught at MIT for a while and Stanford managed to get her out here. She's quite a young star in that field. John Cho I manage is the one of our panelists who most of you have heard of. He was born in Seoul, Korea. He came here when he was four. He grew up in LA. He came to Berkeley, came to Cal. Was an English major. Became interested in theater when they put together Cal local company put together, Berkeley Rep put together a production of the Woman Warrior, the novel by Maxine Hong Kingston who as it happens is another of our panelists. Good hooked on theater. The rest as they say is history. He made a wonderful film in 2002 called Better Luck Tomorrow which really if you haven't seen you should see. I think one of the great films about Asian American. Very dark, interesting film. Better known for his work in American Pie, the American Pie series. And then as one of the stars of Harold and Kumar. Go to Whitecastle. Escape from Guantanamo I'm told is another one coming. He's been on Ugly Betty and a number of TV shows. In the 2009 production, version of Star Trek he played Mr. Sulu from the nation of Asia as you'll recall. A part that was originally played by George Takei in the television version who was also a Berkeley grad. And in
fact Chris Pine who in that same movie played Captain Kirk was also, also Berkeley. It was like an all Calholodeck at the time. He's not the only celebrated actor certainly for Berkeley. Stacy Keach went here, Gregory Peck went here. But I think it's safe to say he's the only one who was voted sexiest man of the year by People Magazine [Laughter]. Lily Wong Fillmore has until recently been retired as a professor in the School of Education. He's been particularly concerned with these questions about bilingual education. How do we manage to incorporate the speakers of other languages into the English speaking world without having them lose their languages and their cultural heritage? It's been a politically charged issue. She has been a strong, I think most people who know her would say ferocious advocate of bilingual education for a long time. Has done a lot of work in this area. She grew up in Watsonville in a Chinese speaking family, went to University of, San Jose State. Then to Stanford. And we were lucky to get her here some years ago and she was in the School of Education for a number of years and as I say is now retired. Finally, Maxine Hong Kingston, the author of a number of books which I imagine some of you have read, including The Woman Warrior, which I mentioned before. It was an extraordinarily influential book. It came out in 1976. It was memoir, it was folk tales, it was creative nonfiction, it was just Maxine.

It created an enormous impact and has had an enormous influence if you think of all the work, the writing for instance from Chinese American writers like David Henry Hwang and Amy Tan and Gish Jen and Sandra Tsing Loh and so on. They all have their roots in that work as does a lot of work in other ethnic traditions where people have tried to deal with the problem of being, in literary way of being of an ethnic group and at the same time being American. After that book wrote China Men which won the National Book Award. Trip Master Monkey in 1989. She taught at Berkeley for a number of years in the writing program and has been an inspirational figure to students here and I think to all writers. So let me now bring them out and ask them to come on the stage and let's welcome them all [Applause]. These are Maxine, Lera, Lily and the tall one is John. I wonder if we can start out Maxine by talking with you and the rest of you all had the same experience of beginning your lives speaking another language. Chinese, Russian, Chinese, Korean.

And at a certain point had to move, had this realization that there were other languages in the world and in fact you were poised between these two languages. Maxine, you've written about this in The Woman Warrior and so on. How did that experience affect you? At what point did you come to that realization?

Maxine Hong Kingston: I think I first figured out that other people had a completely different language was when I went to kindergarten and, but I was only three and a half years old. And my parents wanted a head start program for me. And so they put me in school and when I got there, I had such a terrible feeling that I could not communicate with other people.

And the consequences of that reverberate to this day. The first circumstances were that I, they, I flunked kindergarten. So I have that on my record. And then they gave me an IQ test. And it came out 0. So I have a 0 IQ. And then soon after that I, oh, the influence of this is that I think I have a lifelong drive to be able to communicate and to make connection with other people. Then I went to, then they sent me to Chinese school. Then I found out that we speak an entirely different peasant dialect from other people. And so, again, there was another language that I, around to this day I don't say that I am fluent in Chinese at all because all I know is this peasant language. And what, but going to China I had wonderful linguistic experiences, adventures. Starting out traveling from Beijing and needing translators, but the closer I got to our little village which is in the middle of nowhere then I could understand everybody and I could communicate.

Geoff Nunberg: Lily, was your situation like that?
Lily Wong Fillmore: Well, unfortunately I was more stupid [Laughter] and I started school with no English. And I just took it for granted that the people at my table seated at my table were speaking English. Well it turned out, you know, I learned things like “ándale” and so on. And it turned out they were speaking quite a different language from the teacher who eventually realized that maybe she had to do something about me. So she said something that sounded a whole like gobble gobble gobble, Lily, gobble gobble gobble gobble color crayons. All right? And this girl across the room heaved a big sigh, walked over to me, took my box of color crayons, you know the Smith and Binney eight colors, threw them on the table and she said red. And I said, uh-huh. She said, red. And that was when I learned that the word for hong in English is a two syllable word, red. She came, she was one of the English speakers in my class. She came from Texarkana and was one of the Dust Bowl families fleeing the Dust Bowl so I was some interesting influences in my English you might say. But I didn't even realize this was a problem for a long time. People called me mush mouth.

Geoff Nunberg: How about you Lera? You grew up speaking Russian and you came here when you were 12, is that right?
Lera Boroditsky: Yes, I was 12. I was actually exposed to other languages in Russia. I lived in Belarus and my grandparents lived in Ukraine. I would travel back and forth and so, but my only exposure to Belarusian and Ukrainian was watching soccer because soccer for some reason, all the best games would be broadcast in either Belarusian or Ukrainian. And for that reason I can never keep the two languages apart because the only context I ever heard them in was in the context of soccer. That's my association. When I came to America I was 12. I started learning English in school, but I didn't really know what I was in for. And 12 is also around the age you start being concerned with being cool. And arriving in a new country, all of a sudden discovered how horribly uncool I was in this new place. And not only that I didn't speak English and so I made this pact with myself that I would have to learn to speak English. I refused to speak Russian for a whole year while I learned English. I had actually a really similar experience. I started emulating someone.

I couldn't quite pronounce English Rs right. I couldn't get them except I could emulate this one boy in my class, my home room. And I was very proud of myself and I discovered several years later I had acquired this lisp because the reason I could pronounce his Rs and not anybody else's, he wasn't pronouncing them correctly. I taught myself to do that. But I was disappointed, I learned to speak English pretty well, but that didn't fix the coolness problem. There were other problems. Language wasn't the only thing to figure out.

Geoff Nunberg: No. John. You grew up speaking Korean. That was your first language; is that
John Cho: Yeah. Korean was my first language. We moved to the United States when I was six and I have a traumatic kindergarten memory as well. I was six. I was a little late. Also dumb [Laughter]. But they dropped me off at school. It was the first time I'd spent any time away from my parents and I didn't know how to communicate with anyone. It's one of my few memories from that age. And at the same time I saw, you know, my mother and father who were obviously both fluent in Korean, I saw my father navigate his way successfully in the world because he spoke English very well. He was taught my missionaries in Korea. And my mother did not speak English very well. And she, to some degree, you know, her social life in the United States was defined by that inability and became a little unhappy. You know? And so looking back I feel like my life has been trying to master language when I became, when I came to Cal I studied English and now I'm an actor and that is, you know, looking for clues in language and looking at words and looking what's not on the page and sort of a life problem I've been trying to fix.

Geoff Nunberg: You were saying earlier that the reason you got involved in acting was because you were a Cal student or as it happened?
John Cho: Yeah. This is interesting. I haven't seen Maxine in 15 years which is when I did The Woman Warrior, the adaptation of the book. And at the time I didn't know what I was going to do with my life and I thought that maybe I would get another degree in English because I wanted to find another way to keep reading books. I read The Woman Warrior in class and was an admirer and when I got a chance to be in the play it was an interesting experiment to study the work in the classroom and then study it, you know, backstage. And I found that I preferred one over the other. That sort of made the decision for me.

Geoff Nunberg: When you first read it when you were in the play did it resonate with your own
experience in learning English from Korean at a different historical moment?
John Cho: It did. Although I had two experiences. One was fellowship with another Asian American, but I also saw it as, I also read it with some curiosity. You know, this is a Chinese American experience. This is interesting. It differs from my experience as well. It was, I hadn't known other Asians growing up either. So it was a part of, it kind of began my journey of learning and socializing also with other Asian Americans on campus I mean.

Geoff Nunberg: I was thinking about the phrase mother tongue. In the bookshelf that freshmen who are here participating in the program have, there's a wonderful essay by Tom Laqueur, who is here, who is a historian at Berkeley that appeared in the London Review of Books in which he talks about his experience of speaking German in Turkey in the late 40s before he came here and then having to realize German was not only the language of his family. I was thinking about that phrase, mother tongue, or muttersprache in German. And this is association of the language with appearance.

And in Woman Warrior there's this remarkable anecdote I guess you'll say, I'll say the narrator because I don't know if it happened to you, but where her mother snips, the frenum, that little flap of flesh under the skin under the tongue so that she can become fluent in more languages. Did that? Maxine Hong Kingston: You know, my mother was a doctor in China and she had all kinds of medical theories. And one of them is that if she could cut the frenum under my tongue then my tongue would be very loose and I'd be able to speak English and Chinese and I'd be able to say anything. But when you say mother tongue, I thought it would mean what is the first language, what is the, what is the language that gave, that is the mother to your ability to communicate and it so happened that my mother was the big talker and my father was a silent person. And I was thinking both of you talking about being dumb, the, you know, one reason for thinking that we were dumb. I was dumb too, but in many ways. You know, intellectually and the other way dumb, not being able to talk. I think I was so traumatized by the wrong language that I spent about a year not being able to talk to people. And, you know, this is back in the days when there was no ESL. And so the, I remember in first grade when the boys were bad they had to sit in the corner and I was bad too because I couldn't talk. And so I sat in the corner with the bad boys. And so, you know, I hope that this doesn't happen any more with ESL. But I think, but it also makes me feel that maybe we don't even need a systematic way to learn English. We can somehow pick it up already. Especially if your mother cuts your tongue[Laughter].

Geoff Nunberg: Lily, I know you've spoken eloquently about the importance of that connection with the family in the language and I actually have a quotation from one of your articles, when parents are unable to talk to their children they cannot easily convey to them their values, beliefs, understanding or wisdom about how to cope with their experiences. They can't teach them the meaning of work or personal responsibility. The children have too few guide posts to follow. What are lost are the bits of advice, the consejos, parents should be giving. And this was for you an important element of your commitment to bilingual education. Wasn't it?

Lily Wong Fillmore: It was and very much so and I think maybe it was inevitable that I should take the kind of interest in children coming from other language backgrounds, other cultural backgrounds, trying to make their way in a society that is not very forgiving of differences. And, you know, the result of course is many, many, many children, and especially now, faster than ever before, give up their mother tongue in the belief that doing so will make it possible for them to learn English better and to be more accepted. To be a part of this beautiful world that they want to be a part of. The consequence of course, and of course the younger children are when they give up their language of the home and family, the greater the disturbance in the things that have to go on in the home, the socialization that must continue through the life of a child. You know, well into adulthood. How do parents know what's going on in their children's lives when they don't speak the language. Because unfortunately for the most part, immigrant parents do not learn English as quickly as the children do. The children move out beyond the parents, are unable to communicate with their parents. Unable to learn what they've really got to learn from their parents. So that has really created a lot of disturbances in families. My commitment is in that way and really believing that it makes a person richer and it gives them a greater source of support when they are able to maintain a kind of intimacy with family that is only possible when parents are able to talk easily with their children. You know, we get by. We manage. But without the closeness when that isn't possible.

Geoff Nunberg: I can remember in some of the articles. Maybe it was the work on Yup'ik or recently where you talked about, this is my memory of it. But kids being almost cast adrift linguistically, losing the connection to their mother's tongue and yet not really being able to catch onto English.

Lily Wong Fillmore: There was some research done by a researcher, Kenji Ima, in San Diego which found that a lot of the gang problems among Southeast Asian kids say ten years ago had to do with the children not being able to talk to family. Not being able to communicate easily with parents. And parents not knowing where their kids were or what they were doing, what was going on in their lives. It's really a hardship. And by the way, there are some differences across language groups in how quickly children lose the language. Maybe in some languages like Korean, losing a little bit means losing a lot. Because of the way the language is structured. You don't talk the same way to parents or to figures of greater importance in the same way that you talk to peers or to siblings. And when children lose that system in Korean, they have greater problem communicating with parents and grandparents.

John Cho: I was forced by my father to watch my brother and I were forced to watch television circling back to the dumb thing, but, and we lost our Korean pretty quickly. My brother more so than myself. But one thing that it does within the family, I found, it keeps you an infant because you keep talking this baby talk with your parents until into adulthood. And also keeps you a child within the, within your ethnic community. So my relationships with Korean adults were poor. I couldn't communicate with them. And there was, there's also a power dynamic where particularly these older immigrant men would refuse to speak to me in English even if they knew some. Even if they knew enough to communicate with me in English they wouldn't. So it, you know, my father was a preacher in a church and I could never really become a man in that system. You know. And what's interesting though I'll say now, one by-product of being well known is that Korean people now speak to me in English [Laughter].

Geoff Nunberg: Is that because they think you don't speak Korean?
John Cho: Maybe not, but I remember very clearly there was, when I was younger and starting out acting I'd be interviewed by the Korean newspaper and they would ask me what my Korean name was so they would print that name in the paper. There was a point at which they stopped doing that. And they started phonetically spelling out John Cho in the paper. And I thought something had changed. It was a watershed moment for me.

Geoff Nunberg: I have to just add to what Lily was saying. I've been involved in the opposition to the English only movement and you hear people saying a lot, oh at the turn of the century when my grandparents came here they learned English right away. When in fact the time of transition from English, from the native language to English was about a generation or a generation and a half longer depending on the group in 1900. From now that transition is much more rapid because you've got media, because it's an urban environment, because kids hold on to the language less intensely. Because there are fewer religious connections, for a lot of different reasons.

Lily Wong Fillmore: And also I think there's a whole lot more sociopolitical pressure on kids maintaining a mother tongue or not having perfect English, for example. So the schools will treat a child even after they have pretty much lost their mother tongue as if they were incompetent in English and continue them in programs meant to deal with their language deficits. This is how the inability to speak English perfectly is seen in many, many, many places. And kids feel that. They just put their fingers in the air. They can feel it in the wind. Okay? They can feel this. And this is what drives, nobody forces a child to give up a language. Children give those up because they feel that they've not been accepted as speakers of whatever language.

Lera Boroditsky: I wanted to pipe in and say there's certainly countless advantages to being bilingual. You get to be a double agent in lots of situations, spy on conversations, but there are also some dangers. So one thing I've discovered if I meet someone for the first time and they don't know I'm Russian, I have to tell them very early on because if they know me for a couple of weeks and I still haven't told them, when they find out they become very suspicious of me. Almost like she's some kind of Russian spy. Sometimes people can't hear my accent and it just seems to strange that someone would sound so American and all of a sudden you discover they grew up in this other world, because language is so tied with identity you just put a particular identity on someone.

So when someone hears me speaking American English they imagine a very American upbringing and American identity. And then when they realize, oh, she came from Russia, that really turns them around. In fact lots of research shows that when people speak in a different way than you expect from the way you look they seem suspicious. So, for example, if folks whose family came from Pakistan start speaking with a Scottish accent, there's something very suspicious sounding about that. People don't trust that. They want there to be a clear relationship between identity and language because we feel so strongly about the languages we speak.

Maxine Hong Kingston: Lera, when you speak English do you feel that you have one personality and then when you speak Russian does, is your personality different?

Lera Boroditsky: I think most bilinguals feel that. It's hard to separate whether it's a function of language or whether it's a function of the associations that you have with speaking that language. So for me Russian is the language of my family and my childhood and then English of course is the language of work now and language of adulthood and of course they have very different associations. And they have very different, I play very different roles. But this is a very, very common experience, bilinguals very often report they are a very different person. And actually there are a couple of studies. Jamie Pennebaker in Texas has done a couple of studies where he had Spanish-English bilinguals talk either in Spanish or in English and he videotaped it and then showed silent videos to other people and asked them to rate personality. How outgoing is this person? How energetic? And he at least from these silent videos he saw differences. That people acted differently. Of course, again, there may be cultural conventions that go along with how much you gesture when you talk, things like that. But it's certainly a very common experience. Do you feel like you are a different person when you speak different languages?

Maxine Hong Kingston: Yes, but you know there's one, you know how I feel that so easy for Americans to say I love you. [Laughter] and it's impossible to do that in Chinese. And, okay, there's my mother, she's on her deathbed, okay. And this is the time. I've got five brothers and sisters. This is the time to come to her deathbed and say I love you, mom. Okay? We couldn't do it. I mean I couldn't do it. And then my youngest sister, who is more American than I am because she's nine years younger and she went to the bed and she said we love you mama. And I thought, yeah, I can do that. [Laughter]. So, what is that? It maybe has to do with a communal language. Oh, English is a language that's very individual. The I. That capital I. And in Chinese it's more we can speak for us. We are family. And I can say we love you, but, boy, I love you is so hard.

Geoff Nunberg: You know that sort of takes us to the question I raised when I was introducing Lera about the degree to which language makes you think differently, see the world differently. You were backstage. We did have people point to the southeast with their eyes closed and it was just all over the place. This is a room full of as capable and intelligent a group you could assemble on this coast and it was a catastrophe. What does that say about them and
are there other people that could do that better and why?

Lera Boroditsky: Don't feel bad you guys. We had our own disagreement back in the green room. Eventually I had to get my iPhone out and get the compass going. Then we weren't sure if the compass was right because none of us really knew which way southeast is. Um, this is a very common affliction for English speakers and lots of folks around the world. Let me make a couple of observations about what you guys did. When Geoff asked you to point, a lot of you laughed because you thought, what a ridiculous thing to be asked to do. How am I supposed to know that? Right? A lot of you didn't point. That's a very low compliance rate.

I was peeking and I saw a lot of you just weren't even playing the game. And then for those of you who did point it took you a while to do so. You had to think about it. It wasn't something you automatically knew. So that's a very slow reaction time. As a psychologist I like to measure these things. And then of course there's the accuracy problem [Laughter]. I still don't know which way southeast is, but I saw you guys pointing in every direction. So not all of you could have been right. Now there's some people in the world where you can ask even quite a young child point southeast and they can do it and it's no problem. They get it right.

And speakers of languages like this, the reason they can do it their language requires them to stay oriented just in order to speak properly. They don't use words like left and right. Instead everything gets put into some kind of absolute or cardinal direction space. North, south, east, west is one good system. So if you speak a language like this you have to say things like there's an ant on your south southwest leg. Or move your cup to the north northeast a little bit. And not only do you have to be oriented in the moment. You also have to have all your memories oriented so you can speak about past experiences. Imagine you are staying in a hotel.

You leave your glasses by the telephone. You have to be able to produce a sentence like I must have left my glasses to the northeast of the telephone. You must have encoded your room in those absolute coordinates in order to report on your past experience. And so folks who speak languages like this are remarkable at staying oriented. They are able to dead reckon, this is a spatial ability that we used to think humans didn't have. We always had excuses for why birds could do it better, why ants could do it better, etc. Oh, the birds have magnets in their beaks or the ants count steps.

There was always some reason why humans by our biology couldn't do it. Turns out if you are just forced to be oriented because your language, your society requires it, you can do it. One of the languages I had a chance to work with, Kuktayor, this is an aboriginal language in Australia, just to say hello you have to be oriented. Because the way you say hello is, which way are you going? And the answer should be something like north northeast in the far distance, how about you? [Laughter]. So imagine as you walk around every person you say hi to you have to report your heading direction. That would get you oriented pretty fast. Because if you didn't, if you weren't oriented, if you could don't that you would be completely socially excluded. You would not be, you would literally not be able to get past hello. So if you speak a language like that you stay oriented. That's a marvelous thing to be able to do.

Geoff Nunberg: Do people, I'm sorry, Lily, go on.
Lily Wong Fillmore: I was going to say this is what is lost when we lose languages, the languages that children bring to us in this society that people bring us in this society. This is the richness. I think that this is the greatest loss I can imagine, and resource.

Lera Boroditsky: Every language contains in it the knowledge that was honed and developed over thousands of years by folks in the culture. Right? It's an incredible treasure-trove of cultural knowledge and so it creates that connection to the past, to all the things that were important to folks in your culture. They are incredible instruments, languages, they are exquisitely structured. They have just incredible power and expressivity, but each one is very different. Each one has very different nuance. They are like parallel universes.

Maxine Hong Kingston: Here's something that one gains or loses if you have a linear language like English and then you have a language that's pictograms like Chinese. And Chinese also being a tonal language.

There is evidence that the left brain, the rational brain, this is where you store English. Where that part of the brain gets highly developed with this rational linear language. Now this other language like Chinese which only has 400 syllables versus English which has 4000 syllables. And so these syllables which are in tones and also drawn in pictures, they develop the other half of the brain, this hemisphere, the right hemisphere. The one that dreams. The one that is not as rational. There's even been evidence with people who've had brain damage you could lose one language, but you have the other one because it's developed in a different part of the brain. So it's not just losing nuances. It could be a whole, a whole area of consciousness.

Geoff Nunberg: I have to add, I don't know if it's taken place yet or not, but one of the events associated with the On the Same Page program involved dying languages and endangered languages and if you think of each of these languages as encoding and incorporating a whole world view, a whole world picture, then every time a language dies, that world picture is just gone. Inaccessible to the whole of humanity. The rate at which languages are dying off makes the rate of disappearance of biological species like just a campfire against the Holocaust. They are going at an extraordinary rate. I forget what the numbers are, but half of them won't be spoken in a few decades and it may.

Lera Boroditsky: Some estimates say we're losing one a week.
Geoff Nunberg: I'm sorry?
Lera Boroditsky: One a week.
Geoff Nunberg: One a week. And there are about 6000.
Lera Boroditsky: 7000.
Geoff Nunberg: Do the math.
Lera Boroditsky: One quote I really like, I think it's from Ken Hale, he says whenever a language dies it's like a bomb being dropped on the Louvre because you're just losing that whole cultural heritage. There's no way to recover languages that don't have a written form leave no trace. There's no way to go back and hear them again. Lots of languages were lost before recording began and so we'll never know what they were like.

Geoff Nunberg: John, have you, you've held onto your Korean or?
John Cho: I'm trying to get it back. There's a year and a half difference between myself and my younger brother and he doesn't have the, in Korean you say parum, which means wind. Which is your pronunciation. And for some reason I've, I think I still have it and I feel like if I spent six months or a year in Korea I could absorb it again. But he, for whatever reason, he just doesn't have it. And it's lost to him forever.

Geoff Nunberg: Do you think that has anything to do with your turn toward acting and having
an ear?
John Cho: I don't think so because it's been true since we were children that he for some reason just lost it more permanently than myself, but yeah. Lily Wong Fillmore: The younger you are when you begin that process of loss, the more complete the loss will be. In fact this is one of the things that has worried me a lot about educational policy in our country. We've over the past four administrations there has been a huge effort to get children from minority language backgrounds into schools early, early, early education programs from 0 to 5 now, away from the influence of family so that the children can be taught English as early as possible. And this is one of the greatest disservices we can do to families especially when the parents don't speak English or are trying desperately to revitalize their languages as is the case in New Mexico with the pueblo groups that I've worked with and with the Navajos who are losing their languages so rapidly it is painful. In a decade you can see the loss where practically every child came to school speaking Navajo to a point where only a handful does anymore. Or up in Alaska with the Yup'iks, the indigenous Alaska natives on the west central coast of Alaska where I have worked.

Geoff Nunberg: If, we were talking about earlier what Lily was saying she keeps sending in the $75 in hopes she'll win the dinner with Obama. We'll send the $75 and put your name too, but. Lily Wong Fillmore: Listen, if you guys have any influence, I'd love to have a word or two [Laughter].
Geoff Nunberg: What would you tell him? Just about I'm sure it would go beyond language, but what would you tell him? What should we be doing.
Lily Wong Fillmore: I have a real list [Laughter]. Listen Obama is great, but I would tell him to kick, you know what real quick for one thing.

Geoff Nunberg: What should America be doing in terms of language?
Lily Wong Fillmore: I think the one thing America has got to be doing is building the efficacy of its families along with everything else. It's like to cut the family out of education seems just very, very wrong to me. I think that this is not malice certainly not on President Obama's part, because I think he's the president, the best president we've had for a very long time. However, there is a lot of misunderstanding about language and about the role it plays in people's lives and what it means to be able to communicate easily with your children.

Maxine Hong Kingston: Lily, could I ask you a question about learning language? I have noticed that there are friends and people who easily pick up languages. They can do 6, 7, 8 languages. And they'll say oh, I'm going on a vacation somewhere so I'll just pick up the language. And I cannot do that. And I wonder, are there some people who just have a better ability to learn languages than other people? And are there people who just can only learn one.

Lily Wong Fillmore: Dan Slobin here in the front row certainly is one of those guys who can pick up languages very quickly and my husband, Charles Fillmore, the linguist can as well. But, you know, there are individual differences. There are many individual differences, but I think it gets harder when you have something that you feel you've got to protect, which is who you are. As you grow older it does get more difficult and not because you are not as able, but I think we carry a lot more social baggage perhaps, psychological baggage. To try speaking a language that you don't know well means to expose yourself as being that dumb person unable to do something that you think, well, I really should be able to do that. And children do it quite easily, quite naturally. Children who are free and easy about this because children differ a lot too. Something I've studied in their ability to hear everything that they should be hearing, for example.

And to be able to mimic what they hear which is a part of it, at least initially. But then opportunities as well can differ. If you're in a situation where you're only talking to people who speak that language, the one you want to learn, you're going to have an easier time of it than if you could switch to English if they are going to accommodate you and make sure you understand and you can participate then you are not going to learn as quickly.

Lera Boroditsky: I want to put maybe a more hopeful spin on this. People always talk about how it gets harder to learn a language as you get older. That's true. At the same time it's never going to be easier than it is now [Laughter]. So if you think about it, in ten years you'll only be worse off. So the right time to start learning is now. Think about it perspectively.

Lily Wong Fillmore: Good point.
Geoff Nunberg: Go ahead. Please.
John Cho: I have a three-year-old and it's becoming, it's been a bit of a turf war with my parents when they come into town. My wife is Japanese. And, you know, my parents don't live in the state anymore. And when they come to town they're very aggressive about speaking Korean to him. And so to, you know, to keep the peace I feel like we're speaking English. Yeah, but it's a bit of a point of contention.

Geoff Nunberg: Is he learning any Korean? Are you trying or Japanese? Are you trying to?
John Cho: We're not being, and I'm kind of, we're frozen in activity. We discussed it and talked about it, but it seemed like should we enroll him in Japanese school or Korean school? I don't know whether we want to do that or, we're not bilingual any more really. It comes off as false to me. What do you think Lily? [Laughter] What should we be doing [Laughter]?

Lily Wong Fillmore: I'll give you the address of a school. There are such schools. There are bilingual schools. In fact there's a school in Emeryville where the kids can learn Chinese, Japanese, and English and they do. They learn all three. Which is pretty remarkable. You know, children are really able to learn as long as the conditions allow it.

John Cho: Meaning what? That it needs to be spoken at home?
Lily Wong Fillmore: No, it needs to be
spoken to the kid. [Laughter] And it would help.
John Cho: That makes rudimentary sense
Lily Wong Fillmore: Certain amount of sense in that. And then if you were to support it at home it would be so much better [Laughter].
Lera Boroditsky: Your mom called.
Lily Wong Fillmore: By the way, when you get to a certain age as a Chinese person you give advice freely [Laughter] whether you know anything about the problem or not [laughter and applause].

Geoff Nunberg: Before we turn this over for some questions, the title of this event I think is Dreaming in Other Tongues. And I was thinking when you were talking, Lily, about feeling stupid in a language. Every once in a while I will dream in French or Italian and I just feel dumb. I mean, I can only have the little paltry thoughts that my ability in those language enables me to have and they're really boring little stupid dreams. But I wonder if other people here being truly bilingual, all of you have that experience of dreaming in other languages or how it works in your dreams?

Lera Boroditsky: That's really interesting. I wish my dreams were more realistic, but when I dream in French I can actually speak French without an accent and then it's really disappointing when I wake up and try to speak it out loud and it sounds all jumbled and French people look at me sternly. But in my own mind I'm fluent and flawless.

Geoff Nunberg: It's like being able to fly.
Lera Boroditsky: Yeah, there's no problem internally. It's only in reality when it becomes a problem.

Geoff Nunberg: Do you dream in English and Russian or did you use to?
Lera Boroditsky: Yeah for me I switch the language I dream in depending on the context that I'm in. Definitely if I go to Russia and I spend some time there if I'm speaking Russian a lot I'm dream in Russian. But that even happens when I go to places that I don't speak the language well. So if I'm in a Spanish speaking country after a few days there's this phenomenon, maybe some of you experience this, the din in your heads. The random thoughts that fly through your head all day long, little snippets they start to switch into another language and that's kind of how you know you're switching into this other space and dreams I think follow that. So whatever is the din in your head. That for me is the language that I dream in.

Geoff Nunberg: How about you, Maxine? Maxine Hong Kingston: When I have a dream where I am primal, basic, and I am experiencing something that is very deep in my feelings, then the words are in Chinese. I think it's because dreaming it's like returning to something child like and that is the language of my childhood. There's a narrator in my dream. Sometimes there's a voiceover [Laughter] that narrates a whole story. And that's always in English because that's the story of my, I mean that's the language of my art.

Geoff Nunberg: John, is Korean still occur in your dreams?
John Cho: I don't think so, in fact there's very little talking in any dreams [Laughter]. There's running and flailing [Laughter] mostly. But I don't recall the last time I dreamt in Korean. I'm pretty sure it's in English.

Geoff Nunberg: And how about you, Lily?
Lily Wong Fillmore: Well it's reported to me by my husband that when I, you know, talk in my sleep, I talk both Chinese and very, very proper English, prim English. Not the salty English that I want to use in my everyday speech. He says I'm saying things like bless me, oh my goodness [Laughter]. So I don't know what that means exactly. I really don't. So unlike me.

Geoff Nunberg: I think we can open this up to questions for a while. There are microphones on both sides. Is that right? There's one over here and is there one? Yes, over here as well. If you want to line up at the microphones, ask questions. Please keep them brief, crisp and pointed. Yeah.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Geoffrey, excuse me, I was just thinking before questions could I just tell people what I did today?
Geoff Nunberg: Yes, I'm sorry. By all means.
Maxine Hong Kingston: Okay.

Geoff Nunberg: Let's do it right. So, Maxine, what did you do today?
Maxine Hong Kingston: Okay. Thank you, Geoffrey. I just got off the plane from the border of Arizona and Mexico. And I was a delegation that's sponsored by the Asian American Writer's Workshop and the Coalicion de Humanos Derechos. And we were there to witness the border. And so the first thing, what we did was to go through the fence back and forth across the border in two places. And um, what I want to just show you are about 8 or 9 new words that I just learned. Just starting out by saying we went across the fence. Right there that word fence is so inadequate. We have to find a word that can describe that thing that is going across the borders between our two countries built by the material that was leftover from the Vietnam War. And then we ran out of that material and we started using the stuff from Desert Storm. And so it would take me a whole story to be able to describe something that I would like to say in one word that's not just fence. The, then along the fence are stadium lights which means that everything is lit up very bright and so that you could, it interrupts the migrations of people and animals. And they're called stadium lights, but there's no stadium there. Can we find another word for that? Okay. And then a shocking brand new word. And this word is streamlining. Streamlining is a new judicial process by which we can, by which we can deport 70 people in one and a half hours. And what happens is that the, about ten people are brought into the courtroom. They are all in shackles and they stand in front of the judge in a row. And the judge asks a series of questions and the answer to the questions are si, si, yes, si, si. I'll just give you two questions. One is, are you an alien? Si. For 105, let's see, for 105 days of detention will you waive your right to a jury trial. And the answer is, si. I did hear one person say no. And what happens to somebody who says no? Oh, there's shackles, but also there's ear buds and I think they are hearing the translation of these questions. This legal language and then they hear the translation and they give their answer. There was one person who said no. I had a chance to ask the judge, so what becomes of this person? And the answer is that he's screwed. Because there is no way that he is going to be found not guilty. And he will be found guilty.

And then he will get from 2 to 5 years in jail. And he could have gotten off by just, with his hundred five days. Okay. This is just treatment of live people. So then we also went to the medical examiner's office. It is called the medical examiner's office. You could also call it the morgue or coroner's office. So you see all these parts of dead bodies. Because the bodies are out in the, when they have been exposed out in the desert and there's animals and weather, there's just parts of human remains. And so the human remains are, they are put into bags and they are called UBC. Each set of remains is labeled UBC. That stands for undocumented border crosser. And the human rights people are saying, can we change that name? Let's call them unidentified immigrants. But the government doesn't want that. The connotation immigrants means the motive of immigrating. Which side of the border they are on when they are immigrating. They want this border crosser. I think a very wonderful interesting term the crossing. This journey is called the crossing. And I hear it as, it's the same kind of term as the middle passage. And to me it also sounds like a rite of passage. It sounds very religious. The crossing like a holy cross, cruzandos. Same religious word. Crusade, the cross. Okay. When they get across, where are they going? They're coming here. There is a map of the United States that's made by the Homeland Security. And you know how there's 50 states? Well, there are only like 12 sectors. And where we are right now, this is called the Livermore sector. And it's made up of our state plus about four other states. So this is the name of our place and it's Livermore sector. There are openings in the fence. And those openings are in the worst part of the desert.

You don't even need a fence because nobody can survive going through that territory. And so then the only way you might have a chance is if you hire a coyote. I heard that word all the time. The coyotes will take them through. And now as I say the word, I realize if we put it in the dictionary, the way we pronounce it is coyotes. And it sounds so funny now when I say coyotes because I heard them say it this other way. It's such a serendipity. Geoffrey and I are both on the board of the American Heritage Dictionary. And so right now the ballot has come out on new words or how to pronounce words. And so I think we should put coyotes and how do you pronounce that? Put that in there. Oh, yeah, across these sections where the fence opens, there are drones that fly there all the time. And then just thinking about the American Heritage Dictionary, which I have right now, I think the most interesting word that they want us to judge is the word minority. Is it acceptable to use minority in this sense: I am a minority. Or, as a minority, I support the Latino studies. After my trip to the border, I am marking the ballot that that is an entirely acceptable usage of the word minority. I feel like when I use the word minority like that, I feel solidarity with those people crossing the border. Also in solidarity because in Arizona they have already passed a law to take out Latino studies. Okay? That's it.

Geoff Nunberg: Thank you, thank you. You know, when you speak of this and I think about these paired words, illegal, undocumented, immigrant, alien, which alien actually going back to the 1920s had a pernicious connotation. I think of what Lera was saying about the different effects, speaking different languages and realize that you can, you can have those effects without having to step out of compass, the compass of English.So let's take some questions now.

>>: I have a quickie for either Lily or Lera. Lily, you said that kids oftentimes decide that they'll
drop their mother tongue because they think it will help them learn English faster. Is there any evidence that that's true or do they learn English as quickly if they have two different linguistic communities, one at home and one at school? What does the research say?

Lily Wong Fillmore: Well, I guess with the, there are big studies. What's his name? Darn. These
days these references just pop right out of my head. But there have been some large studies that kids do give up their, see, no one tells you, they won't let you speak your language at school. Now that's true. But does that mean you have to give it up? Giving the language up is a choice that children make. And how do I know these things? Well, I've studied the process over a number of years. In one case the children of 1100 families across the country who had had their, who had had their children in early education programs that were in English only. And the extent of the loss was so great that by the time the kids were, let's see, how, I think it was like two-thirds of the children had lost or unable to communicate easily with family members in the home language. Within a couple of years of being in these early, early education programs. In schools where I've done research, absolutely. And I've continued to do research since retirement. I spent two years in a school up here in Richmond where 97 percent of the kids were English learners. And, my gosh, I wish you could hear how completely children can lose their language when they take a mind to doing so. Including a child who did not know the word hermano, brother, although he had three brothers. And that's all there were, boys in the family. So, kids can, they do.

And like I said, nobody tells them they can no longer speak their mother tongue at home. The parents don't speak any English at home. For example, the children will start using English. Initially, the parents say, how wonderful, the kids are speaking English. They're so smart. He's only six years old, etcetera, etcetera. Well they welcome this. And before they know it the child no longer speaks the home language. I had the experience in New York City of talking to a huge auditorium. Maybe twice the size of this one. Packed with Asians from all different backgrounds. And I was talking about this process of loss and what the parents had to do. What they had to do to stop the loss before it was too late. And then I saw people coming up. There are a few people lined up here. But, listen, the lines snaked around the room. And people came up on the stage and in very, very halting English told about their children who could no longer understand them, they could no longer talk. See, what happened to the language? Well, you know, like I said, nobody tells the children they cannot speak it, but they give it up.

Lear Boroditsky: My quick answer is that there are costs to learning languages at the same time in the moment, but there are always benefits down the line. So you are going to experience some difficulties. That is, you are trying to learn two languages at the same time. But the benefits of having gone through that process will materialize later. Lily Wong Fillmore: But the fact is that there is nothing that says that children cannot learn two or more languages as long as. There is so much, so much is psychological and emotional and social. Kids want to belong. They mistakenly believe that giving up the mother tongue will make them more like those desirables at school or out on the playground. You know, it's a very interesting process.

Geoff Nunberg: Let's take a question over here on the east side of the room.

>>: Hi. My question is for John. Actually, I have a funny memory of my mom and I. I watched Star Trek with her. It was funny because she was watching in Korean subtitles and I was watching it in English. And I think it's nice that we can share an English film together where, so even though we can both understand despite the fact that she doesn't know English. And it's funny because she said in the middle of it that we have similar qualities in appearance. And it's
funny because one of my friends were filming. And it would mean a lot if I could get a picture with you after all of this is over. [Laughter] It would only take a few seconds and it would mean a lot to me. John Cho: We can do that.

>>: Okay. Thank you.
John Cho: Thank you.
Geoff Nunberg: Is there another question over here on the west? Yeah.
>>: It's about the children learning the language again. And so we taught our kids Hindi, you know, which is our native language, including the script. And they learned it well. But over time they start losing it. So my daughter who continued to use it because she was learning Indian classical music. So what I feel is that there has to be a continuing that particular utility for the child in some domain of her life. In a broader sense, in order to sustain linguistic diversity, you have to sustain cultural diversity. So if you don't have any value for Indian classical music in U.S. where she lives, then the value for the language also dies with it.

Lily Wong Fillmore: That's right.
>>: So really the core issue is that the cultural diversity is disappearing at a fast rate. That language doesn't go with it. I mean, how do you preserve that is the real issue.

Lily Wong Fillmore: I guess you do if it's really important to you and that's what I hope to make, see, this society does not support the maintenance of minority languages. It will not. And that's all there it to it. Just look at the politics right now, right? In Arizona, in many, many places. So it's going to have to be family and community. The primary community. The Chinese have always had Chinese schools. Maxine went to Chines school when she was a kid. I went to Chinese school. Hated every minute of it, but it was good for me. I know. [Laughter] And it's, well, you know. These are things, if a community values it. If a community wants to, it can do that. And I think this is going to, it has to be that way. Families have to tell their children, look, this is a Korean house. Under this roof, you eat Korean rice, you speak Korean out of respect for me. The parents who do that can get away with it. And actually get away with it as long as they're tough. And we, Asian parents are known for a certain level of toughness.

Lear Boroditsky: I'm not sure we're losing cultural diversity here. Humans are endlessly inventive. This is how we ended up with 7,000 languages in the first place. We're able to take
all these different perspectives on the world and we have these incredible flexible minds. At the core of human intelligence is just being able to constantly invent. And I think they're, just as there's a drive to affiliate and conform, there is also a drive to diversify. And you see this all
over the world. We like to relate to larger groups but we also like to have our own tribes. And I think those are opposing forces that will keep diversity alive for a long time.
>>: There are 7,000 islands without the internet and now you don't have those islands.

Geoff Nunberg: Over here on the east. I think it feels like the shrine game, doesn't it? [Laughter]
>>: Um, I was actually noting a link between, there was another link between crime in the southeast Asian, I think there was a crime in the southeast Asian community and perhaps a link between whether or not they were able to speak, the children were able to speak the language of the parents. Also thinking in regards to the program in which, I think it was in New Mexico where the children were being forced into an English-only environment in that divide. And I was wondering if do you think a program in which both the students and the parents or try to incorporate together perhaps to learn English? Both together, parents learn English. Do you think that would find that balance between this divide that comes as children when they grow up.

And even perhaps help them maintain home language even at home as long as they had the languages they are able to go back to perhaps.

Lily Wong Fillmore: That certainly would be great because the parents need to learn English because there's just no way that you can, that you can learn if you don't speak any English. I mean, you're always going to be outside the economic mainstream. And it is important. But there are not enough classes for adults to learn the language. People, immigrant parents usually work much, much too hard, too many hours to even have time for that. So these are always things that are very desirable. For me, I view myself as a family, an advocate for families, all right? We've got to do the most doable things first. And that is educate the educators. So they go easy on the kids. And make sure that the kids feel they don't have to make that choice because it's really a unnecessary one. Truly a unnecessary one. And then, to educate parents to understand what is at stake because that is exactly what the problem is.

There is a lot at stake for a family, for an immigrant family. To maintain, I value the diversity, I value the languages. But more than anything else I'm concerned about the integrity of families.
Geoff Nunberg: I should just add that the last time I looked it was about 10 years ago. I haven't checked the figures lately. There 50,000 people on waiting lists in LA County alone for adult English classes. Similar numbers in Northern California. With the present state of the State budget, I don't even want to think what those numbers are. But at the same time people are saying people have to learn English and so on. They're not making the resources available. Over here.

>>: One of my favorite things about different languages is that there are a lot of words that aren't directly translatable, at least into English. And I was just sort of wondering for all of you if you had a favorite word in another language that wasn't really directly translatable into English, either your native language or another language you might know.

Geoff Nunberg: That's a good question. Maxine, do you have a.

Maxine Hong Kingston: Well, on the virtual bookshelf, I put a glossary from my book. And I got the confidence to do that from being on the board of the American Heritage Dictionary. But I just put words, they're my favorite words. And each one has in a way not translatable. Okay, I'll just pick out one. It's lie. It's a confusion word. It's a confusion value. And it means tradition. It means the right conduct. That very Buddhist kind of term. Right conduct. But also on a very light level it also means good manners. And so every time you use when you are in interaction with someone you use good manners, it also means that you are doing a ceremonial good gesture toward them. And thinking of a way to define li, I found somebody who did it for me. And that was Thomas Murtin, the Catholic priest and monk. I guess he's a Catholic monk. And he defined li using Christian terms. And so I used his definition in that, in my glossary.

Lera Boroditsky: Let me give you two examples. Some of my favorite words that you can't translate are words that I never thought you would need a word for or I would need a word for. So when I was learning Indonesian at some point I learned a word madu, which means co-wife or fellow wife. As in another wife of the same husband. And I thought I never would need that word. But now I have it and I felt, I felt incredibly happy to have learned it. I also felt really bereft because I thought when am I actually going to use that word? When will my opportunity come? Another word, another example is from Russian. And this is. Russian allows slightly more complicated morphology than English does. And why I love this example is how it shows you nuanced meaning can get if you allow just a little bit of morphology. Russian allows you to put on all these prefixes on verbs. So you can something like [Speaking Russian]. It has to root for to drink. But it means something like I meant to drink too much but I didn't quite get there. [Laughter] And it's the feminine past tense perfective. So it has all those, singular, right. So it has all of those meanings. Whenever I think about that word I think about the question people ask. Oh, does English have a word for X or Y or Z? And are there, no language. You could ask does English have a word for, I I meant to drink to drink too much but I didn't quite get there in the feminine past tense singular perfect. Almost no language should have a word like that. That should be a pretty rare occaission.

Geoff Nunberg: But if one does it should be Russian. [Laughter] How about you?
Lily Wong Fillmore: None of them are very nice. [Laughter] There is an expression in my language where you call someone constipated dog. And when I'm driving I use that expression a whole lot. But actually my favourite expression is from Spanish, Mexican Spanish. A word I learned from all the kids who taught me what I though was English when I was back in Watsonville. [Speaking Spanish] You know, I don't even know how to translate it exactly. It's sort of all at lose ends, untidy. I know how to use it. Any of you Spanish speakers can provide a better translation for [Speaking Spanish]?
>>: Discombobulated?

Lily Wong Fillmore: Discombobulated but a little, okay. Yeah, yeah. That sounds pretty good actually. Sort of like blech.
Geoff Nunberg: John, any words for you?
John Cho: I don't know that I have a favourite but I thought of a word that I recently learned, a new word in Korean. When I was in Sol last a reporter told me that I was an [Speaking Korean]. Which is a combination of three words. [Speaking Korean} which means mother, [Speaking Korean] which means friend, [Speaking Korean] which would be son. Mother's friend's son. And that was meant as a great compliment that would mean you are desirable to women [Laughter]. And I said in the English translation that would mean the opposite, I think. [Laughter] But that was interesting. But in support of bilingualism I think it's interesting. Because to what you were saying earlier, Maxine, my mother and father, I think, can, maybe about five years ago became very about saying I love you.

Maxine Hong Kingston: Oh, good for them.
John Cho: And it rolls off the tongue very easily now. And they say it all the time. I think it's so interesting that if there is a language blocking, you can't express it in one language. It's fantastic that they can just switch up.

Maxine Hong Kingston: You mean they can say it in English when they don't say it in Korean?
John Cho: Yeah, they'll be speaking in Korean sentence and say, okay, we're leaving now in Korean and then say I love you in English. That's keeping the beat. So, path of least resistance. Geoff Nunberg: I find the words that I miss most when I'm speaking a foreign language are often these little particles that you can't translate. I mean in German you say [Speaking German] and it means I'm finished. The ya is doing something that English has no idea what to do. I once asked an Italian friend who spoke English very, very well, I said when you're speaking Italian, what's the expression you most miss? And he thought, he said, by all means. [Laughter] Maybe we can take one more question over here because we are getting late. And then afterwards we'll give everybody a round of applause and then afterwards people, I take it the panelists will be willing to take questions on the stage. So, one more question over here. 

>>: Hi, I speak Spanish. I learned it in grade school. And then afterwards I completely forgot it. And so I wanted to relearn it. I traveled to South America for four months thinking I'd learn it immediately. And for the first two months it worked. I picked it up real quickly. But after that point I sort of hit this plateau where I couldn't get any further. I knew all the basic language. I could enter business negotiations and I could talk with friends and I could flirt a little bit. But I couldn't reach those sort of higher concepts. I couldn't have a really good conversation with anyone. And I don't know how to learn... have any of you ever experienced a plateau like that while learning a language?

- Well, the bad new is that you have to get past flirting and get a girlfriend, and then, after that...
- I’ve done that.
- That’s the best way.
- I can’t think of a better and more deffinitieve way to end a conversation. Can we all just thank the panellists who have just been terrific. And thank you very much. Mercy, grazzie, danke.