Animals as Language Partners
10 Aug 2008
I talk to my dog in Chinese. It makes sense, really. He’s a Chinese dog.
He’s not a Chinese breed, but he’s born and raised in China. He may be white, but I’m not racist enough to make that mean English is his language too.
Jokes aside, it’s still not that simple. I’ve been paying attention to my dog’s other interactions, and it seems that my wife, normally not big on the “English practice” thing, talks to him an awful lot in English. (I mainly talk to him in English only when I’m mad at him for peeing on the floor… again.)
Yesterday Brad came over and talked to him in Chinese too. I’m not sure if he was just following my lead or what… I didn’t ask Brad about it, but I wouldn’t expect him to have consciously chosen the language he used to talk to a dog.
In some ways pets make the best language partners. They never criticize, never mishear or misunderstand… they just listen. The speaker is under no pressure to perform, and yet has the attention of a transfixed audience.
I’m quite sure I would not talk to my dog in Chinese if I were back in the States, though. My dog is experiencing the effect of his master living in a second language environment.
Obviously, a pet can never be a true language partner; there’s very little real communication and no negotiation of meaning going on. Still, it’s a nice intermediary step between talking to oneself and actually speaking with a human partner.
It does make me wonder, though: have there been studies on human-animal interaction in a second language acquisition context?