Meta-Thinking: How Multilingualism Helps

Bilingualism is accompanied by biculturalism, and develops the meta-thinking capability.

In general, two different cultures may, or may not, approach the same logical and cognitive environment differently. A perfect bilingual (such as yours truly) or a birth bilingual (such as my daughter) are constantly adjudicating and nuancing the differences between the cultures. A bilingual has to become a judge. Bilingualism is learning two logical systems, and then one is forced to develop the meta-logic to handle them both simultaneously.

So the first thing bilingualism teaches is the relativity of cultures. And how much knowing two languages provides with stereoscopic vision, the ability to perceive a logical dimension, and an emotional dimension, otherwise undetected, and even unsuspected. 

Winston Churchill was half American, half British. Moreover, he was bilingual in French, to the point of treating military matters with top commanders, in French. He had a very eventful life, including war in South Africa, before getting in politics. “Are We Alone?” newly found 1939 essay Winston Churchill “outlines possibility of alien life and exoplanet habitable zones”. The essay is actually excellent, and makes correct guesses about exoplanets and extraterrestrial solar systems, which, at the time, went against “official” science. Winston had guessed that the solar system theory in fashion at the time was wrong, and opted for the correct one. He was surrounded by top scientists. Churchill got the Nobel Prize in literature, and that was deserved.

I asked, just now, my birth-bilingual seven-year old daughter, about the difference between French and English. She answered, in a cocktail of french and English:”English is poorly pronounced French. But English makes every sentence and word into sing-songs, whereas French is flat. It makes the English more emotional and the French more logical.”

The very fact she used a cocktail for the answer is revealing: she has more words for some nuances in one language relative to the other, depending upon the nuance considered. It clearly augments her mental reach.

The more different the cultures, the more the contrast between the languages, and the mightier the meta-logic to embrace them both.

For example, even though English is mostly poorly pronounced Old French, yet, there are already significant differences in the cultures, and the neurology they lead to. However, European languages are more or less the same: once one knows a few (as I do), one can manage the others. However, when one switches to Chinese, the differences are revealed to be profound. And they extent all the way to mathematics.

Multilingualism is no modern fad. Neolithic people knew generally several languages, because communications were difficult, so particularisms grew fast with distance. Even now in Africa, a few dozens of kilometers away, one can find tonal (most of West Africa), and non-tonal languages (Wolof, Serer). Actually Senegal has dozens of languages, with seven main ones, over a pretty small area. Hence multilingualism is natural: we evolved through it, as a species.

People of culture in Europe, for millennia, knew many languages (at least Latin plus the local language). Charlemagne spoke several languages. Caesar was a birth bilingual (although his last words were in Greek, the language of his first days).

Thus to access higher intelligence, multilingualism may be a deep and strong requirement, ignored all too long.

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4 Responses to “Meta-Thinking: How Multilingualism Helps”

  1. Paul Handover Says:

    We named our house here in Oregon anam cara which is Celtic for Soul Friend.

    Jeannie speaks good Spanish and French versus me stumbling a little over French.

    But I recall with great pleasure, and not a little surprise, spending eight days on the Russian Trans-Siberian Express back in 1970 and being able to converse with Russians around me in French. As you imply, the roots of European languages are greatly intertwined.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Trans-Siberian? Now that’s something! Siberia seems astoundingly beautiful. Empty of people, and as big as the entire USA (10 million square kilometers…) Anam Cara? Are there other friends than soul friends?


      • Paul Handover Says:

        Not in the sense of true friends.

        Reflecting on that trans-Siberian passage, I still recall the first four days being through some of most desolate, yet varied, countryside one could imagine.

        We spent twenty-four hours visiting Irkutsk and caught the next train. Irkutsk was halfway in terms of days to Moscow but only, if I recall correctly, about a third of the distance as the train traveled at a much slower average speed. In those days there was one train each day in each direction.


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Seen from maps and pictures, much of Siberia is magnificent and without anybody (it’s 10 million square kilometers).

          Now on the question of friendship, I have hardened my position (which was already hard) since the Clinton situation. I held, and hold, that Clinton and company (unfortunately my ex-friend Obama) are part of a FAKE LEFT. That should have been a matter of friendly, even welcome debate with some American and European “friends” I have known for decades.

          Instead of an exchange of ideas, as an apparent extension of the campaign of insults against Trump, several of these friends engaged in what is technically criminal behavior (even in the USA, not just the EU), namely defamation against me on the Internet, knowing full well, and admitting in electronic messages, that this defamation was a bunch of lies. They also conspired, encouraging each other (on the Internet) to tell enormous lies about me.

          Deliberate defamation to hurt someone reputation is against the law, even in the US.
          Most of these “friends” were, and are, apolitical posers, but several work at high level in media, and are part of a world network of editors, publishers, etc. (I knew them long ago when they were nothing….)

          Asked for their motivation, they declared I had to be “stopped”. What for? Telling the truth? They refused to engage in this (what I say is very truth oriented…)

          So what went wrong there, in spite of my millions of words on the Internet?

          The lack of soul in common. My own soul is founded on a Will to True Reality. Because only then is the heart free.

          What I have observed, over the years, is that this is a costly soul to have. Cheap souls are tribal: figure out an obsession, share it with a number of similarly obsessed people. Share in the madness. Voila!


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