Posted by: patenttranslator | December 5, 2015

Speaking Only One Language Can Result in Serious Brain Damage

Over the last few years, neurologists have proven through a number of double-blind studies that monolingual people are much more prone to developing dementia at some point in their lives. It is therefore not surprising that in the largely monolingual US population (if we exclude recent immigrants and sometimes also their children) “An estimated one in three U.S. seniors are expected to die with dementia.”This according to an article in CBS News.

Judging from my interactions with people my age and older, the real number of seniors who are stricken by dementia is probably a little higher. The reality may be much more grim than what the data available from existing studies shows at this point.

Although scientists have not yet tried a method that I would like to propose in my post today, a simple method for measuring the prevalence of dementia in older monolingual people in all of its stages, from incipient to advanced, would be to compare monolingual politicians to their counterparts in other countries who are sometimes forced to speak at least two languages due to the geographical location and history of their country.

If you are for example the Prime Minister of Canada, you have to be fluent in French because the simmering separatist tendencies in Quebec would otherwise result in splitting Canada into two parts within about three weeks. You would be also in big trouble as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, for example, if you were to speak only Luxembourgish because only 400,000 people worldwide speak your language and all of them live in the same tiny country whose square area is approximately equivalent to that of Sonoma County, California, home of excellent Zinfandel wines.

Facility with foreign languages is probably one reason why politicians who live in countries where even the politicians have to speak more languages than one appear to be measurably less demented than those who live in a monolingual environment, such as the linguistic environment of the politicians at the highest echelons of power in the United States.

Being strictly monolingual is not good for your brain – in fact, monolingualism may be directly related to early onset of dementia, which can be clearly illustrated with the example of monolingual politicians.

How many monolingual US politicians are there? You may ask. Too many, for sure: taking a quick peek only at the upper echelons of this profession, there are 100 senators in the Senate and 435 representatives in the House of Representatives, for a grand total of 535 eminently powerful politicians. How many of them speak several languages? I don’t know, but I would be surprised if there were more than just a handful of them, once we exclude Spanish speakers whose first language is Spanish, which may become the main language of Estados Unidos at some point in the near future – most sociologists seem think that it could happen in about three decades.

Unless you happen to be Hispanic, there is a strict rule requiring our top politicians to be completely monolingual. The only exception to this rule is when a politician represents an important bilingual voting minority, and so far there is only one such minority in this country. In fact, even if by some fluke our politicians know some foreign language, they have to pretend that they can speak only English because otherwise they would be simply unelectable. As long as you speak only English (and it’s not even necessary to speak it very well, which is to say in complete, grammatically correct sentences), you can run for president.

On the other hand, being bilingual is definitely a valid cause to question your patriotism.

When John Kerry was running for president in 2004, a small crowd of French TV reporters was trying to interview him for French TV in French. But although every politician loves free publicity (unless this publicity happens to be about an illicit affair, bribery, theft of funds, or similar topics involving the same politician, which for some reason occur relatively frequently in advanced democracies), as soon as John Kerry heard the reporters calling him “Monsieur Kerry!”, he froze like the proverbial dear caught in the headlights and then immediately started running away. The same thing happened to Mitt Romney, who also quickly reacted in the same way.

Purely for entertainment value, they still occasionally show the footage of Mitt Romney on French TV, while the sudden departure from the scene by Monsieur Kerry is still sometimes shown on Fox News.

The current set of GOP presidential candidates is full of crazy talk. So much so, in fact, that I have to admit I’ve watched three GOP presidential debates on Fox, although each time I had to turn it off after the first thirty minutes because you can watch a freak show, even a highly entertaining one, only for so long.

Some people say that what Donald Trump says in these debates is totally crazy, but I would disagree. Saying things like that he will build a wall on the Mexican border “… and trust me, I know how to build walls” goes down well with potential Trump voters, which means that saying something like that is actually pretty smart. Donald Trump obviously knows that it is impossible to build an impenetrable border along a border that is 2,000 miles (about 3,500 km) long. He also knows that all you have to do to prevent would-be immigrants from trying to come into the country illegally is create a system that imposes high penalties on corporations that employ illegal immigrants, such as Donald Trump’s businesses.

But I have no doubt that if Donald Trump becomes the next president of my country, he will start building a big wall on the Mexican border while using taxpayers’ money for a highly profitable construction project.

However, saying crazy and evidently demented things is not something that is the exclusive domain of Republican presidential contenders, although they frequently compete with each other for who will trump Donald Trump in this regard on televised GOP discussions.

As Kristina Marusic from MTV News wrote in her collection of The 11 Craziest Things The Presidential Candidates Have Said About Women, the two leading candidates competing for the Democratic Party’s nomination have said pretty demented things too, including Hillary Clinton, although neither of them so far has came close to Donald Trump’s statement about a female Fox reporter who dared to ask him a probing question:”She must be in a mood because she has blood coming out from her”.

Unlike Bernie Sanders, who almost four decades ago wrote a really weird satirical essay in which a woman fantasizes about being raped by three men simultaneously, Hillary Clinton so far has not said anything nearly as crazy as what Bernie Sanders said three decades ago, or what Donald Trump has been saying recently and hopefully will say again.

But in her case, I don’t think that it matters very much what she says because I would have to be crazy myself to believe anything she says. She will clearly say anything, anything at all, if she thinks that it might help her to get elected and then, in the time-tested Democratic tradition, will do the exact opposite of what she was saying if and when she does become the first female preside of the United States.

And although what Bernie Sanders says is not crazy at all, in fact I have to agree with most of what he is saying, he is in fact crazy if he thinks that in an electoral system in which corporations have been declared to be persons, money equals speech, and one dollar equals one vote, the Wall Street would allow him to be elected president. When the time comes, he will have to obediently endorse Hillary, and he knows that.

So there you have it. Being bilingual does not necessarily make you smarter, let alone a better politician or a better person – Hitler and Mao were monolingual, while Stalin was bilingual. But as scientists have found out, being monolingual is definitely bad for your brain, which is amply illustrated among other things by the current crop of monolingual presidential candidates in United States.

We can only hope that US politicians will finally realize that if they start learning a foreign language, it may not only broaden their horizons and show the world from a different angle and in a new light, but most importantly, it may also help to delay or even prevent the onset of dementia among our politicians, which, as scientists suggest, is the unavoidable fate of a monolingual brain.

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Responses

  1. Pfew, here I was, thinking there was something wrong with my brain when listening to our pollies. It’s nice to have it confirmed that it’s not me that’s nuts 🙂
    Thanks mate!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t mention it, mate.

    Like

  3. Very amusing post, Steve…do you think Trump is showing early signs of dementia or is the stuff he bangs on about normal for him?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hard to tell, Cheryl, hard to tell. I tend to think that when he said “She must be in a mood because she has blood coming out from her”, that reflected quite accurately what he thinks about women.

    He likes to have sex with them, but other than that, I’m guessing that he does not really like them too much.That what his comment about the TV reporter says to me.

    What do you think?

    Like

  5. Some people and some societies still view women as commodities that can be bought, sold, traded, etc. It is not uncommon for rich men to marry younger and younger wives multiple times akin to trading an old car for a new one. I don’t see a correlation between a person’s monolingualism and how that person views/treats women.

    Like

  6. Then how about the main point of my post, that being monolingual is bad for one’s brain?

    Like

    • Yes, there are some surveys out there that correlate multilingualism with later onset of dementia and several other cognitive advantages. Multilinguals rock! You’re kind of preaching to the choir here.
      Tying politicians unpalatable and outrageous proposals to their mastery of foreign languages is an interesting exercise that I don’t know anyone has tried yet. You have now a crowded field of presidential candidates. You could research their mastery of Languages Other Than English for each one and then tell us all about it in your next post.

      Like

  7. Thanks for the homework, Milena.

    I’ll get right on it!

    Like

  8. What a fascinating idea, thank you Steve! That certainly explains a lot about our “pollies” (thank you for that lovely word, I’ve also learned “carnival barkers” the other day). Of course, some of them have pretty poor language skills in English too. I don’t have much to say about Trump, except this – we kind of get what we deserve. Plenty of people, in this land of independence and freedom, now adore the idea of “strong” leader who magically comes and fixes everything. (As for his women, I am sorry to say that but there are always many women more than willing to sell themselves, so let’s not just blame “buyers” when we talk about consenting adults.) Foreign language skills would definitely not impress those who attend Trump’s (or anyone’s) rallies. We don’t want politicians who can speak a foreign language or know the difference between Czech Republic and Chechnya, or have any common sense and decency. A few populist slogans, open hate towards everyone who happen to disagree with them, plenty of money from Saudi Arabia, China or the Gambino family, and the candidate is ready to lead the greatest nation to new adventures.

    Liked by 1 person


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