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Hi everyone,

First of all, I know that using the term 'alingualism' is frowned upon by some interpreters - it is, after all, quite controversial. Secondly, I know that some of you will rightly point out that alingualism should not be an issue for interpreters because no good interpreter should be alingual!

However, I am very interested in alingualism (speaking several languages fluently, but none of them up to A language standard, as well as experiencing difficulty with interference). I discovered that I was alingual just a month into my sim training. Almost a year on, I've made progress, but due to the very nature of language itself overcoming alingualism is no mean feat.

Personal concerns aside, I am seriously looking into researching alingualism in interpreters - the literature seems to be extremely scarce and I do think it's fascinating. So I was just wondering if any of you could point in me in the direction of any specific research on the topic, or if anyone has any ideas they would like to contribute? I think I would be focusing more on simultaneous than consecutive, but anything you think might come in handy would be great!

Thank you!

asked 18 Aug '12, 08:16

Louise's gravatar image


edited 18 Aug '12, 14:40

Delete's gravatar image

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Thanks so much for your replies; all of the links have proved very helpful. Regarding your post, Andy, I couldn't agree more. Having been on the receiving end of 'alingualism' criticism I know just how hurtful it can be. However, having always heard the term in this context, I went ahead and used it in the title of my post. I agree that there are better ways to describe the phenomenon.

I would however argue that someone with an ACCC combination faces different challenges in building up their A language than someone with an AB combination. That is in fact one of the aspects of multilingualism that I am interested in researching.

I'll keep you all posted on anything interesting that comes up!

(21 Aug '12, 11:32) Louise

As an interpreter trainer and former English teacher I think the term "alingual" is both incorrect and insulting when applied to the group you describe "(speaking several languages fluently, but none of them up to A language standard, as well as experiencing difficulty with interference)". Unfortunately it is used by interpreters to describe this phenomenon and often with little regard for the sensibilities of the individual in question. Language is part of our identity and to be told we have none is hurtful, unhelpful and incorrect.

When a candidate interpreter presents an ACCC combination and is rejected because their A language is not good enough nobody suggests that they are "alingual". And yet someone presenting AB whose A suffers B language interference to the point of unusability is.

I take the opportunity this post presents to call on teachers to stick to using a neutral and factual expression to the effect that "you're A language isn't rich or flexible enough for the requirements of CI".

Sorry I can't help with any tips on research. I'm not a research expert.

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answered 18 Aug '12, 15:29

Andy's gravatar image


Dear Louise,

I'm not an expert in this area, but as far as I know, alingualism is also referred to as semilingualism. Many cases of alingualism are found in bilingual persons who do not speak both languages at a native level (i.e. they are actually semilingual and not bilingual).

You can find a brief experience post here with numerous comments at the bottom. And I could also find a study (sample pages) here.

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answered 18 Aug '12, 14:48

Delete's gravatar image

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edited 18 Aug '12, 14:56

There is vast research in bilingual studies on dominant languages, language interference, code switching and so forth. This is where you want to look for research in this topic. Start with Suzanne Romain's "Bilingualism", then look at research from Center for Research on bilingualism in Stockholm and work from Rod Ellis. Personally, I totally agree with Andy. "Alingual" is a subterfuge, everybody has an A-language. Then it is of course a question if you have or can develop enough skills and sub-skills to become an interpreter.

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answered 19 Oct '12, 16:50

tulkur's gravatar image


Dear Louise, that is an interesting question. Given that you were

wondering if any of [us] could point [you] in in the direction of any specific research on the topic

--> You might want to look into research on "compound and coordinate bilinguals". HTH and good luck.

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answered 21 Aug '12, 01:52

Tanja's gravatar image


That is indeed a very interesting topic, unfortunately one on which - to the best of my knowledge - you'll have a hard time finding solid research... perhaps because our definition thereof differs from the world at large, ie "not fluent in any language" whereas we mean "w/o an A language"...

If you google "a-lingualism" (as opposed to "alingualism") you'll find some discussion of the topic.

I've always disagreed with a-lingualism being grounds for rejection, be it at schools or in aiic... because it does exist - as you know :-), and rest assured you're not the only such case.

Perhaps more learned colleagues can provide you with some references.... that at least the two of us could benefit from?

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answered 18 Aug '12, 10:17

msr's gravatar image


edited 18 Aug '12, 15:10

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question asked: 18 Aug '12, 08:16

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