Forgetting your mother tongue

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Forgetting your mother tongue

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Redigeret: jun 9, 2018, 5:11am

An interesting article on languge loss in adult bilingual people.

The main examples are German/English, a few Spanish. It would be interesting to see more examples from wider circles.

Her examples of cross-language use hit home to me because I switch a lot between English and German. Personally, I find that how much I switch depends both on who I'm with and the topic of discussion. There are various topics where my active vocabulary is only in one language. I recently gave a talk on spinning and weaving to a German-speaking group, and even after preparing hard on the German vocabulary, it didn't always come when I needed it. Otherwise, if I am with German speakers, I rarely switch. However mixed groups are hard, even if only one language is being used.

At home, I often switch back and forth, even several times in a sentence, or use German vocabulary freely in an English sentence. The language I answer my husband in is more likely to be the one I am reading than the one he addresses me in. Or it may be content related - since shopping is in German, I'm likely to say 'Wir brauchen Erdäpfeln,' rather than 'We need potatoes'. And the next sentence is likely to be 'and I'm out of Germ.' (yeast)

I was at the fruit growers' yesterday. I shop there regularly, and we are 'per Du'. It was interesting to see that when she sent me off with a carefully crafted, 'Have a good weekend and see you again soon.' I had to work hard to reply in English. My brain knows very well that I speak German there.

jun 9, 2018, 12:32pm

I can't say I've forgotten my mother tongue: I left UK when I was 22 and founded a French-speaking family with my husband, while always using English in my workplace. But there are words that came into the vocabulary since I left and took me by surprise whenever I went back, such as "tailback". And I never bothered much with politics when I lived in the UK so all my political vocabulary is French, and medical terms are also quite a mystery.
I also switch between both languages and sometimes say something in French that is a direct translation of an English expression though I'm not aware of it when I say it. I find myself thinking and dreaming in both languages, too. But for counting, I generally use English.

jun 9, 2018, 2:55pm

I'm a typical mono-lingual American (I tried to learn German, but mostly I learned that I'm terrible with languages).

My mother, however, was born in America into a large extended family of Austrian immigrants where German was spoken at home. My mother told stories of being so embarrassed at having to go out every evening to get her father his Abendpost (the Chicago German-language newspaper). She stopped speaking German at home; even if she was addressed in German, she would answer in English. By the time she was an adult, all she could remember of German was the swear words.

My father was born to Polish immigrants, where Polish was spoken at home. He attended schools where part of the day was taught in Polish. He spoke mostly English but also Polish to his parents until they died. (We asked him to teach us Polish, but he said he wanted to have a language he could speak that we couldn't understand.)

Reading the article, I wonder how much language switching is related to state-specific learning. Also wondering if state-specific learning is why my mother could still swear in German. I was a teenager in the 1960s when using vulgar language was still unusual in our middle-class homes. Mom would yell at us for saying sh*t, then I would tell her, "But you say scheiß!" "That's different!" Long pause. "I got it from you kids!"