Olivier Elzingre’s post on passive bilingualism and linguistic identity endorsed by world-leading scholar

My name is Olivier Elzingre. I am currently enrolled in a PhD program here at Monash, looking at high school students’ motivation to learn French. For the past year or two, I have been writing articles and blog entries for two different platforms. The first is an online magazine entitled “Parrot Time” (www.parrottime.com), for which I also edit contributions by a group of regular authors, and the second is a blog named “Le Mot Juste en Anglais” (www.le-mot-juste-en-anglais.com), aimed at speakers of French who are interested in English language. Articles in the online magazine are written in English, and in French in the blog.

Olivier (second left) with his brothers

Recently I submitted a blog entry to “Le Mot Juste” in which I compared my upbringing in a bilingual family (French dominant, English) with my experience as a father in one such family (English dominant, French). Perhaps the main reason I wrote this entry was that I have been able to observe my 5-year-old son’s language development, wondering what impact my speaking French to him would have on his linguistic identity. His codeswitching reminds me strongly of my own childhood codeswitching and my father’s annoyance towards it! My son and I have in common that we both developed as passive bilinguals.

I am aware that passive bilingualism is the poor cousin of the full, bright and active multilingualism. I reason however that my own linguistic trajectory took me to a good level of English proficiency, something my son can achieve in the future in French as well. Another reason I don’t worry is that my son is curious about French, asking me for translations and constantly singing French Christmas Carols (Petit Papa Noel is his favourite). A more active bilingualism would have been great of course, but it is also clear that my French doesn’t offend his linguistic identity. This highlights further his positive attitude towards the language.

Jonathan, who manages the blog, emailed my piece to one of my academic heroes, Jean-Marc Dewaele from Birkbeck, University of London (a friend of mine at Monash calls them “academic crushes”, but I simply can’t bring myself to think of them like that). Dewaele was kind enough to add a supportive statement to my entry, which was quite an exciting moment for me!

Currently I am writing a couple of other small pieces: one for a friend who has an exhibition in Switzerland about the imitation of language. I am also working on a short article titled “sloppy relatives”. This is more a fun article in which I argue that the everyday ungrammatical usage of relatives in English illustrates why linguistic relativism is the rule.

I find writing small pieces quite satisfying. Writing light and ludic pieces allows me to engage with both academics and non-academics on questions of (applied) linguistics and test my own assumptions. While I continue to develop as a researcher and writer, contributing to these two platforms provides me with opportunities to put my name out in the wild before I eventually graduate to the more sophisticated academic journal publications.