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Suppressed bilingualism

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 30 Nov 2018, 09:47

I have just seen a fascinating tweet from Michael Rosen:

"My mother was a ‘suppressed ‘ bilingual. We discovered on a trip to Germany in 1957 her first language was Yiddish which from about 15 she suppressed and repressed. I’m still figuring out the personal, social and political reasons why she did and what we all lost as a result."

I wonder if he will ever be able to completely figure "out the personal, social and political reasons why she did" it. 

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Patrick Andrews

Language choice and identity in a recent novel.

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I am currently reading The Mersault Investigation (Daoud 2014, trans 2015).  This is a telling of the story of Camus' L'Etranger from the point of view of the brother of the murdered Arab.  There is the following a very interesting passage, where the narrator discusses the way that he uses a different language (I assume French) from his mother (I assume she speaks Arabic):

"And for a long time, she would make me feel impossibly ashamed of her - and later it pushed me to learn a language that could serve as a barrier between her frenzies and me.  Yes, the language.  The one I read, the one I speak today, the one that's not hers.  Hers is rich, full of imagery, vitality, sudden jolts and improvisations, but not too big in precision.  Mama's grief lasted so long that she needed a new idiom to express it in.  In her language, she spoke like a prophetess, recruited extemporaneous mourners, and cried out against the double outrage that consumed her life: a husband swallowed up by air, a son by water.  I had to learn a language other than that one.  To survive.  And it is the one I'm speaking at the moment.  Starting witrh my presumed fifthteenth birthday, when we withdrew to Hadjout, I became a stern and serious scholar.  Books and your hero's language gradually enables me to name things differently and to organise the world with my own words"  (page 37)

The extract shows how people can choose languages or varieties of language to mark difference or, in more extreme cases, create barriers.  Here, he seems to want to make a barrier and mark the diffeernce between himself and his mother.  He seems to be wary of her emotion and links this to the language and this gives him the motive to use French, which is seen as more precise.  The precision also seems to be used in contrast with the "richness" of his mother's langugae,  It is also interesting that he refers to being able to "organise the world with his own words".  Again this might be a contrast with the world that her mother lives in (and perhaps the word "improvisations" is significant, suggesting unpredictability.

This passage seems to have relevance to many of the OU's languages courses such as L161 and E301.


Daoud K (2014, trans 2015) The Mersault Investigation London: Oneworld

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Patrick Andrews

linguistics in the media

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 13 June 2011, 09:43

An interesting article about bilingualism in The Observer today, showing the advantages of being bilingual.


The question about trilingualism raises important issues about the practicalities of linking this research to the configuration of the brain rather than social factors.  Presumably many people who learn a third language have done so as a choice (although there are many parts of the world where three languages are used).

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