Striking Quotations on Second Language Acquisition (SLA)

SLA Topics

Quotes on words

Vivian Cook

Sources and accuracy not guaranteed
the European Commission

The more languages you know, the more of a person you are.

Roman Jakobson 1953

Bilingualism is for me the fundamental problem of linguistics. 

Roger Ascham

As a hawk flieth not high with one wing, even so a man reacheth not to excellence with one tongue.

 Edward Said 1999

I have never known what is Arabic or English, or which one was really mine beyond any doubt. What I do know, however, is that the two have always been together in my life, one resonating in the other, sometimes ironically, sometimes nostalgically, most often each correcting, and commenting on, the other. Each can seem like my absolutely first language, but neither is.

Village elder, Eritrea

If I speak only one language, I can help my country as only one man. If I can use two languages, I can help as two men. But if I can use all nine languages, then I can work as nine men. 

Chinua Achebe, 1965, 'English and the African writer', Transition, 18, 27-30

So my answer to the question: Can an African ever learn English well enough to be able to use it effectively in creative writing? Is certainly yes. If on the other hand you ask: Can he ever learn to use it as a native speaker? I should say. I hope not. It is neither necessary nor desirable for him to be able to do so. The price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use. The African writer should aim to use English in a way that brings out his message best without altering the language to the extent that its value as a medium of international exchange will be lost. He should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry out his peculiar experience. 

Zulu chief in Lewis, 1980, p.57

If I know only my own language, I am no better than a chicken scratching around for its own food in a narrow pen. If, however, I know the white man's language I can soar like an angel 

Chomsky, 1986, 16

We do not for example say that the person has a perfect knowledge of some language L similar to English but still different from it. What we say is that the child or foreigner has a 'partial knowledge of English' or is 'on his or her way' towards acquiring knowledge of English, and if they reach this goal, they will then know English 

       Rochefoucauld, 1678

L’accent du pays ou l’on est ne demeure dans l’esprit et dans le coeur comme dans le langage  

Ezekiel, Nissim, Twenty-One Indo-Anglian Poems
V.K. Gokak (ed.), Madras

I am standing for peace and non-violence…
Why all people of world
Are not following Mahatma Gandhi,
I am simply not understanding…
To much going for fashion and foreign thing.

P.G. Wodehouse (1935), The Luck of the Bodkins, 1

Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

after Efstathiadis, 1993

A mouse saved her young from a ferocious cat by barking 'bow wow'. After the cat ran away, the mouse said to her offspring 'See, children, it pays to know a second language' 

Sridhar and Sridhar, 1986

Paradoxical as it may seem, Second Language Acquisition researchers seem to have neglected the fact that the goal of SLA is bilingualism. 


second language: ‘A language acquired by a person in addition to his mother tongue’, 

 Hoffman, 1991, 31

From whatever angle we look at it, bilingualism is a relative concept.

French proverb

A man who knows two languages is worth two men. 

Samuel Johnson 1761

To use two languages familiarly and without contaminating one by the other, is very difficult; and to use more than two is hardly to be hoped. The prizes which some have received for their multiplicity of languages may be sufficient to excite industry, but can hardly generate confidence.

Nilotic proverb Words can kill before arms. 
Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, 1998 The monolingual of whom I speak speaks a language of which he is deprived. The French language is not his. Because he is therefore deprived of all language, and no longer has any other recourse – neither Arabic, Berber, Hebrew – nor any languages his ancestors would have spoken – because… he is thrown into absolute translation, a translation without a pole of reference, without an originary language and without a source language (langue de départ). For him there are only target languages (langues d’arrivée).
 Ibo proverb Words are sweet, but they never take the place of food.
Mediaeval English proverb Jack would be a gentleman if he could speak French.
Czech proverb

You live a new life for every new language you speak.

Goethe Those who know no foreign language know nothing of their mother tongue.
Turkish proverb One who speaks only one language is one person, but one who speaks two languages is two people.
Roger Bacon Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom.
Rev Jack Edwards What is a nation without a mother tongue?
Frederico Fellini A different language is a different vision of life.