A Bilingual Child: What’s in a name?

The names a bilingual child has for his father

When I was a young kid (as I got older it might have changed somewhat) I had just the one name for my dad: ‘Dad’.  I didn’t call him ‘daddy’ or ‘father’ or ‘pa’ or anything else.  Just dad.

My son, on the other hand, calls me lots of different names.  This might seem obvious and perfectly explicable if he were calling me one name in English and one name in Portuguese, but he has far more than just two names for me.

When he was learning to speak I was ‘daddy’.  He would be speaking his broken Portuguese and call me daddy and it would make people smile.  It was cute and I was proud to be the only daddy in the city.

Then he went off to day care and he quickly realised he had to refer to me as ‘papai’ if he wanted all the other kids and teachers to know who he was talking about.  Although I was a little disappointed I knew that this was all right and proper and the way it should be.  This is often shortened to just ‘pai’.

While I was initially happy to be called ‘daddy’, I would have preferred to be called ‘dad’.  I didn’t say anything or push it because it is up to Mr T what he wanted to call me.  ‘Daddy’ for me, is trying a bit too hard to be cute, with tones of upper-middle classness (I am English and these things still matter) and very Francis Urquhart (the original BBC series, not the American interloper).

We spent a few consecutive weekends with a British friend of mine who also lives here in Curitiba and has a son who is a few years older that Thomas and speaks perfect English.  This kid uses ‘dad’ just the way I did and, one evening, Mr T started calling me ‘dad’.  I was quite happy about this and hoped that the evolution of my name would now stop.  I had one in Portuguese and one in English.  That was enough.

Apparently not.

Since about the age of 3, Mr T has been interested in names.  I think this initially started because he liked to write the first letters of people’s names, but it continued because my name sounds funny in Portuguese.  His vovó has a function in her car that enables you to tell the on-board computer who to call.  But this on-board computer can’t speak English so if you say my name properly she doesn’t understand.  Instead you have to say it in a Portuguese style which comes out as ‘Stefan Greeny’.

To this day, this is one of the funniest things Mr T has ever heard.  He delights in calling me the computer version of my name, followed by howls of laughter.

He also uses my proper name of ‘Stephen’.  If he wants something, or decides I have done something wrong, he uses either ‘Stephen’ or ‘Stephen Greene’.  There is something very disconcerting about being woken up at 3 in the morning by your 4-year-old shouting out your real name at the top of his voice.

And finally, the latest incarnation of my name: Johnny.

This is the one I like the least because it has never been part of my identity.  My middle name in John and, after a weekend away in Sao Paulo with is mother, he came back calling me Johnny.  I have no idea why this should be, but apparently it’s funny and so, for the last few weeks, this name has been used whenever he wants to make a joke.  While it gives me the chance to channel my inner Jack Nicholson it is lost on Mr T who hopefully won’t see the film for a good while yet.

So the names I have so far include: Daddy, papai, pai, dad, Stephen ‘Stefan’ and Johnny.  Who knows what he is going to call me when he is a teenager?

A Bilingual Child: 20 days in Birmingham

A bilingual child learns more than just English during a holiday in Birmingham, UK

20 days back in the UK.  20 days with so much to see, do and learn.

20 days to go to Legoland, pretend to be Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest and Nottingham castle, play in the snow, eat a few good curries a drink lots of decent beer (at least I did, not my 4-year-old son) and maybe find some time to relax.

20 days isn’t enough for family and friends, but then it never is.

20 days, with at least 3 spent at the wonderful IATEFL conference to meet up with old friends, made some new ones and even see the odd presentation.

And in 20 days Mr T’s English went from mainly passive understanding to something approaching a more active and natural level.

Before we went, I was a bit worried because although Mr T understands pretty much everything I say in English, he rarely talks in English.  As my wife had to stay in Brazil, this meant he would only hear English for the duration of the stay.  Would this be too much for him?  Would he spend all of his time running to me to ask me how to say things in English?  Would he just refuse to speak in English at all?

I decided to arrive in the UK two weeks before the conference to give him time to adapt before I disappeared for the conference. I think this turned out to be a good move because for the first week or so he was quite shy about speaking English.  He complained when I had to do some work as this meant he had to speak English.  When I was around, he gloried in prattling away in Portuguese safe in the knowledge that I would understand everything he was saying.

We had a party on the first Sunday and it took me a while, and a lot of patience, to encourage Mr T to join the other kids.  He was worried about not knowing anyone and not being able to communicate.  15 minutes after he plucked up the courage to join in, he was running around and playing games just like any other 4-year-old.

I was told by my family and friends that when I wasn’t around he would speak quite happily in English.  Once again, it would seem it was all my fault.  It was also noticeable that while he was able to communicate he didn’t have the flair and the extended utterances that he would normally exhibit in Portuguese.  He wasn’t able to tell stories, be inventive or interact with adults the way he normally does in Brazil.

By the end of the trip, especially over the last few days when I was away at the conference, he seemed a lot more comfortable.  He was able to laugh with my family and play jokes.  He sayed at my brother’s house the one night and didn’t want to leave (I think this was more to do with the fact that the stay included an afternoon at Toys R Us followed by sitting in front of the TV than anything else) with no communication breakdowns.

While he still speaks to me in Portuguese, we both left the UK feeling very good about ourselves and the progress Mr T had made.  In fact, he learnt so much in just 20 days that I am sure that if we were able to stay there for a couple of months he would be able to speak English as if he were an average 4-year-old British kid.  I just need to find the time and money to be able to make that happen.

 

 

A Bilingual Child: Little Daddy

Bilingual Child, Brazil, English, Portuguese

Brazil may be a huge country, but Brazilians love making everyone and everything in it as small as possible.  One thing I noticed early on when learning Portuguese was the prevalence of the suffix –inho or –inha.  They use it on the end of words to form the diminutive, and they use it all the time.

This means that a ‘coffee’ (café) becomes ‘cafezinho’, ‘grande’ (big) can be ‘a little bit big’ (grandinho), and ‘never’ (nunca) can be ‘never, ever’ when it is used as ‘nuncinha‘. 

Even the word little itself ‘pequeno’ can be made even littler by saying ‘pequeninho’.

However, a small t-shirt (camisa) is not a camisnha because camisinha means condom.

This little suffix be used to mean something is actually small but not exclusively so.  It can also be used to show familiarity, friendliness or that something is just so damned cute.

The basic rule is that you add –inho to masculine words and –inha to feminine words.  However, if the word ends in the letter ‘z’, or vowel other than ‘a’ or ‘or’ then we have wither –zinho or –zinha, depending on the gender of the word.

English uses the diminutive a lot less than Portuguese.  Footballers and children are fond of adding a ‘y’ to the end of names to sound familiar, so that you will hear them referring to their teammates as ‘Scholesy’ and ‘Giggsy’.  In terms of more formal English, we have imported the suffix -ette from French so that we get words like ‘kitchenette’ and ‘cigarette’.

There are also different varieties of English around the world that have their own diminutive forms, like my dad shows his Irish roots by adding -een to the end of various words, for example, ‘Would you like a cuppeen of tea?’ is a common expression in our house.

In general, though, we don’t have a common diminutive form, and when we do use it we are nothing like as proficient as Portuguese speakers for employing it.

An advert for Coke in Ecuador makes fun of the Brazilian predilection for diminutives

Diminutives in Action

Mr T has picked up on this in his Portuguese and is enjoying playing with words and liberally adding –inho to them.  He was begging me to let him watch Batman the other day and, because we have a rule that he can only watch at night the answer was no.  But he is nothing if not persistent and so asked if we could watch Batmanzinho, or just a little batman.

Mr T couldn’t tell you the rule about when to say –inho or –zinho, but he has shown us that he is aware of it.  He did this when playing with the English word ‘daddy’.  First of all he called me ‘daddyinho’, but he knew this was wrong almost as soon as it came out of his mouth.  A few seconds later he repeated himself, but this time said ‘daddyzinho’.

I liked this because it shows he is being creative with his language, playing with it to get new words and meanings.  He also did it with a look on his face to suggest he knew what he was doing was a joke at my expense and that he also knew that he shouldn’t really be doing this in English.

The only downside is that I am little daddy and not big daddy.  But at least my name isn’t Shirley.

More on diminutives in Portuguese

Portuguese Language Blog

Portuguêse é Massa (Portuguese for Foreigners)

 

Image

Big Daddy by Paul Townsend CC BY-NC 2.0

A Bilingual Child: Music Is Our Religion Part II

Music and a Bilingual Child

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Mr T’s musical tastes.  As you might expect, they have since changed a little bit, with the biggest difference being that there are now a couple of Brazilian songs in his favourites list.  However, I am glad, and proud, to report that so far he still  broadly likes music with guitars.

Whenever he hears a new song on the radio in the car he asks me ‘Is this rock ‘n’ roll, daddy?’  If I tell him it isn’t then he is generally not happy about it at all.

If I tell him it is then he smiles and makes the universal symbol of rock music.

So here is the current Top 10 direct from Mr T’s Musical Taste.

Polícia by Titãs

This song is probably Mr T’s favourite song at the moment, and this is undoubtedly because of his growing obsession with the police.  He always wants to play cops and robbers with me, and you can probably guess who has the handcuffs and is constantly being thrown in prison.

This means there is a good chance that Mr T has missed the not so subtle message of the song which is a protest against the way police behave in Brazil.  The song was written shortly after two of the band members were falsely arrested for heroin trafficking.

Fortunately, Mr T hasn’t found this cover version of the song produced by one of Brazil’s most successful musical exports.

I Fought the Law by The Clash

Again, this song is one of Mr T’s favourites because of its associations with the police.  He loves shouting out at random times how he fought the law, but the law won, and he places a lot of emphasis on the words ‘the law won’.  Obviously I am happy that our son is starting to like the Clash, but I am doubly pleased because was the song that my wife and I walked into our reception to nearly 10 years ago.

Geração Coca Cola by Legião Urbana

The second Brazilian song ( The Coca Cola Generation), and this one is by one of my favourite Brazilian bands.  Whenever I hear Legiao Urbana (Urban Legion) I can hear The Clash, The Joy Division and The Violent Femmes, all of whom I love.  But they use these influences, and more, in a very urban Brazilian way so that they produce something that is unique.

Mr T likes to play with this song and change some of the lyrics.  My particular favourite is when he decided to sing Griassol Coca Cola (Sunflower Coca Cola)

I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll by Joan Jett

If a song isn’t about the police then it normally has to be about rock for Mr T to like it, and this is the first of three songs that prove my point.  These three tracks usually come as a package, so when he sings one he soon moves onto one of the other two.

I must admit that I reckon this is a bit of a corny song, but when it is mangled by a three-year-old it takes on a charm of its own.

We Will Rock You by Queen

Mr T only knows the 4 words of the title from this song, but he takes great pleasure in beating out the rhythm on anything that comes to hand; the sofa, a table or my head all make very good drums.  As his pronunciation isn’t quite perfect yet, he sometimes substitutes the /r/ sound from ‘rock’ for a /f/ sound.  Every time I hear it I have to do a double take to see if he really knows what he is singing or not.

Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night by Kiss

Kiss are another band that I never really understood, too many painted faces, wild costumes a crap music for my liking.  However, they have a song about rocking and rolling all night, and even partying every day, so that is enough for a 3-year-old to think they are brilliant.

Bongo Bong by Manu Chao

This song came up on my i-Pod in the car and was an immediate success.  It is quite different to the songs he usually likes, but it got his attention and he asked for it to be played again.  I’m not allowed to sing along to this song, but his mamãe is, but only the line ‘I’m the king of bongo drums’, the rest of the time we have to be quiet and listen.  Being quiet is a rare thing in itself, and because it’s such a good song I am very happy to play it in the car for a few minutes of peace from the back seat.

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? by The Clash 

This is the latest song to make it into Mr T’s favourites.  So far he has managed to learn two words: ‘go now’.  This means we have to sing the rest of the song and stop for those last two words of the title for them to be belted out toddler style.  But it’s another Clash song, so it will be played a lot over the next few months and so I have no doubt Mr T will pick up more of the words very soon.

One More Time by Daft Punk

It isn’t about the police, it doesn’t use guitars and there is no sign of the word ‘rock’ in the whole song.  By rights, this shouldn’t be on the list, however it is and, what’s more, it was also on the last list a year ago so it has stood the test of time.

Vapor Barato by O Rappa

This is a very late entry into the charts.  Last week Mr T was listening to music in the car with his mamãe when this song (I’d translate it as ‘Cheap Steam’) came on.  I like some songs by this group, but this isn’t one of them.  But when has that ever stopped a kid from liking a song?  Mr T particularly likes singing the chorus of ‘Baby, baby, baby’ over and over again, and in so doing only putting me off the song even more.

Images used in this post: Guitar by Alejandro C CC BY-NC 2.0Rock Hands by Ryan CC BY 2.0 and Turn it up to 11 by Kainet CC BY-SA 2.0

A Bilingual Child: Linguistic Coincidence

Linguistic Coincidence 3On a trip to see my parents a couple of years ago Mr T was just starting to use individual words.  He had aninclination to create his own names for certain things, the most memorable of which was ‘abudah’ for ‘car’.  Unfortunately, that word has now been replaced by the more conventional ‘car’ or ‘carro’, but there is one word from that time that has stuck around and, I daresay, is likely to be with us for a while yet.

We were in Ireland walking down a country lane from our hotel to the town of Athenry when Mr T started shouting what sounded like ‘dodo’.  The pronunciation was remarkable similar to the long extinct animal, except there was more stress on the second syllable.

It was quite obvious that Mr T wasn’t referring to a stupid bird that was a great meal for sailors in the 17th century, but we had no idea what he was actually talking about. After a few seconds, and an increase in decibels, it became clear that Mr T was actually trying to get his granddad’s attention.

Ever since that day everyone has referred to my dad as ‘dodo’.

There were lots of theories as to why Mr T should choose have chosen this name.  Among them included the fact that ‘dodo’ is similar to the Portuguese word for granddad: ‘vovô’.  Personally, I didn’t think this was true because I wasn’t sure Mr T had made the connection between his granddads in Brazil and the UK having the same relationship to him.

Portuguese also provides us with ‘doido’, which is a word similar in meaning to ‘fool’.  It’s possible that this was what Mr T had in mind, although it wouldn’t be very flattering to my dad.

It was a source of family discussion, with no answer being possible and so lots of theories could be floated.  We had almost decided to just let it go and live with the word when my brother and I stumbled upon another possible answer, or perhaps just a strange linguistic coincidence.

A “strange coincidence” to use a phrase

By which such things are settled nowadays

Lord Byron ‘Don Juan’ Canto vi. Stanza 78

A Curry and a Language Lesson

In the first week of our holiday in the UK before Christmas, we went for a great curry in a place called Kababish in Moseley, Birmingham.  After the great meal, my brother and I decided we fancied a few extra beers, and so went to a pub around the corner.  We happened to find my cousin and her husband propped up at the bar and so proceeded to have a great evening swapping stories with them.

One story was how Mr T was calling his granddad ‘dodo’.  To our surprise, my cousin’s husband thought this was the most natural thing in the world.  He was originally born on the Isles of Arran, just off the coast of Galway in the west of Ireland.  In that part of the world Gaelic is still used as much as, if not more than, English.  And it turns out that the word for ‘granddad’ in Gaelic is ‘daideo’ which sounds suspiciously like ‘dodo’.

Now, we were in Ireland when Mr T started using this word.  However, none of my family speaks any Gaelic so he wouldn’t have heard the word from them.  There is a slight possibility that he heard somebody else use the word, but would he have associated it with a name for his own granddad?  Unlikely.  Maybe it was just the Irish air or the Galtee sausages?

Linguistic Coincidence

A linguistic coincidence is occurs when two languages have the same word, or sound, for the same thing.  Of course, many languages are related, so often it isn’t a coincidence at all.  For example, the English word ‘excellent’ is similar to the Portuguese word ‘excelente‘, but this isn’t because of any coincidence, but because both words share a common Latin root.  By some estimates, there are over 3, 000 words which are remarkably similar in English and Portuguese, and you can find a list of some of them here.

Instead, a linguistic coincidence is when two languages have the same, or similar word but there is no connection between them.  There is an amazing list of linguistic coincidences on Johanna Hypatia’s blog.  Looking at this list I was firstly amazed at how many coincidences there are.  But thinking about it again, for al the words that exist in all the languages in the world, statistically speaking there has to be some overlap between languages.

And so that is where I think our ‘dodo’ or ‘daideo‘ comes from.  It is purely a linguistic coincidence that we will be marvelling over every time we get together as a family and can think of nothing else to talk about.  All I have to decide now is how to spell it.

Images used in this text are my own except The Shamrock by Ole Olson CC-BY-NC 2.0  and Language Diversity by Tobias Mikleson CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

 

A Bilingual Child: A Mouth Story Before Bedtime

Bilingual Child bedtime story

A long, long time ago…

We have had a slight change to our bedtime routine recently.  Ever since Mr. T was a few months old we would give him something to eat, then a bath and finally a bedtime story before it was lights out and hopefully quickly to sleep.

It didn’t take him long to cotton on to the fact that both his mamãe and I, and indeed, all of his grandparents, are suckers for reading bedtime stories.  This meant he would often ask for just one more story and, depending on how tired we were, or how desperate for a glass of wine, he usually got at least 3 stories a night.

Recently, though, this story routine has changed.  He now asks for only two stories, one of which is a ‘mouth story’ and the other being an ‘eye story’.

What do you mean you don’t know what a mouth story is?  And you’ve never heard of an eye story?

With the simple logic of a three-year-old it is obvious that a mouth story is one which you make up as you tell it, while an eye story is read from a book.  You see?  Blindingly clear, isn’t it?

If there is more than one person around then he usually wants the stories from two different people.  I am usually the one to give him a mouth story, and either his mamãe or vovó reads an eye story.  This has the added advantage of him hearing both English and Portuguese before going to sleep.

One more vital element of a mouth story, besides it being made up on the spot, is that it has to be about Mr. T.  We have a clearly developed structure now, so that I start off by saying something like

Tonight I am going to tell you the story of the time Mr. T went to the Fire Station.  A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, lived a little boy called Mr Tin Curitiba, Brazil…

Most of these mouth stories are based on real things that happened to Mr T at some point in the past.  I think this helps him to develop his memory as he recalls aspects of the stories.  However, we are firm believers in never letting the truth stand in the way of a good story, and so we are both happy to embellish certain parts of the stories as and when we see fit.

So our bedtime routine has evolved a bit, but we are all very happy about it and, so far at least, it hasn’t resulted in Mr T trying to stay up any later.

Images: Sleepy v Bedtime Bear by JD Hancock – CC BY 2.0 and Bedtime in Inverness by Gene Selkov – CC BY 2.0

 

Happy (Belated?) New Year

Bilibgual family in Curitiba, Brazil

Things I will write about. Soon. Honest.

Ok, so it might seem a bit late to wishing you everyone a happy new year.  But it feels exactly right to me because now that carnival is out of the way the year has really begun here in earnest here in Curitiba.  My teaching schedule is pretty much set for the next few months, Mr T is back at school and life is returning to some sort of normality after a hectic holiday period.

It’s been a while, but it is also time to resurrect my ramblings and memories of bringing up a bilingual child in Brazil.

Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing about our recent trip to the UK and the effect it had on our son’s English.  As well as his English changing, our son also had a depressing encounter with Father Christmas, a trip to see a first football match that hopefully won’t put him into therapy for the rest of his life and a not-so-successful fancy dress party.

It wasn’t all bad though, as we tried some wonderful curries, played in the snow and were visited by a much better Father Christmas 3 times!

I hope to tell you about the difference between mouth-stories and eye-stories, and why they are both equally important, how Mr. T’s musical tastes are developing and why his growing obsession with super heroes is turning him into a proper little consumerist.

And now that we are back in Brazil I’ll try to describe some of the not-so-obvious differences I noticed between life in Brazil and Britain, as well as trying to make some sense of the corruption scandals, demonstrations and plunging economy that we seem to be facing here.

So lots to look forward to, if I can just find the time to do it all some justice.