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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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Me in a rare cheerful mood

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There is a follow-up comment which may explain it:  https://mobile.twitter.com/RosenTheUnready/status/1068443279262400515?p=v

Because it was seen as 'common'.

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Thanks so much for your reply and the link, Simon

This may be a/the reason but we can never quite be sure.

shadow

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hello Patrick,

my mother's family spoke Gaelic but did not past it on to their children, since living in a Gaelic speaking community I have met people who grew up in this community with Gaelic speaking parents who do not speak the language and I've been told it is because their parents did not want them to learn as it was believed speaking Gaelic would hold the their children back at school and with employment, thankfully things are changing now and many parents want their children in the Gaelic medium classes,

Frances

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Thanks, Frances for the interesting account of a context.

It seems quite common for parents to believe that knowing two languages will hold children back although the evidence seems to show that bilingualism gives great cognitive as well as social and practical advantages.  I have an ex-student who is British but was living in Italy who told me a psychologist told her not to bring her child up bilingually.  It seems very sad not to make use of the potential for bilingualism or multilingualism.

shadow

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hello Patrick,

it wasn't bilingualism that prompted the Gaelic speaking parents to discourage their children to learn, it was due to the manner many English speakers treated and refered to first language Gaelic speakers in the past, I have traced my family on the isle of Mull in the 19th century and have been horrified and upset when reading Scottish government papers refering to the Gaelic speakers as sub human and like animals (in a bad sense), as I said thankfully that has changed,

Frances

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Thanks for this fascinating if shocking posting, Frances.

I know more about the discrimination against speakers of Welsh.  This story about discrimination against Welsh at school is quite well known.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/society/language_education.shtml

Negative attitudes towards Welsh by the English have a long history as shown by this article:

https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/wales/articles/a-brief-history-of-the-welsh-language/

Now, we tend to think the more languages a person knows the better so it seems strange to see it referred to as a drawback.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

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When my parents moved down south they both had to make the effort to lose their Tyke and Scouse accents to talk more posh for the sake of their careers.  I, meanwhile, made the effort to lose my very correct English albeit with a Mancunian accent, and instead learned to tawk aw proppa like, like wot they do darn Sarf, dun't they, nar-wot-I-mean?

Our Dutch friends have been told off for speaking Dutch to their young children at home by the school, saying it will suppress their ability to use English.  They did not know what to think, having grown up themselves in a country where everyone is at least trilingual.  We told them to ignore the school's linguistics specialist.  We have had a few friends whose children are brought up bilingual or trilingual perfectly well.

The most impressive was little Sara who was becoming fluent in English (from family friends, playschool and being here), German (mother and grandmother) and Urdu (father and his friends) simultaneously and it was amazing how she would talk to you in whatever language(s) you used with her.  After knowing her for some months, she was surprised when she caught me using German with her German-only grandmother and was offended.  She was only about four but immediately twigged that I had always been able to understand her when she was talking about me to her mother/grandmother in German but had not let on.  That became even more fascinating when I learned some more about 'mind-reading' in child development in the DD210 psychology module.

From what I have seen over the years (making this merely anecdotal), if you learn multiple languages simultaneously in those young years, with different languages in different settings or with different people, it only has a positive effect on learning because it gives additional insights.  I'd like to see real evidence that multi-lingualism in children is a disbenefit, especially when compared to only speaking English.  Especially since English is a composite language anyway, and where learning Greek and Latin alongside it improves one's learning and use of English.

shadow

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hello Patrick,

thank you for the Welsh language links, I found them interesting, my father was born in the valleys of south Wales and spent his childhood there, (a government programme brought him to London in the late twenties when he was 15, because of the lack of jobs in the mines), my Welsh grandmother, whom I never met, was Welsh and spoke Welsh, my grandfather didn't, my Dad knew some Welsh but not very much, he said it was not spoken much,

the Welsh Not, I remember reading of something similar in one of my previous modules, E304 or U214, it sounds dreadful, like tying the lefthand of lefthand children behind their back,

I do not understand why your ex-student living in Italy was told not to bring her child up bilingual, what a wonderful opportunity lost,

Frances

shadow

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hello Simon,

I can give you a person example of when mulitlingualism does not work,

the key is using each language with the same set of people or setting, I worked with several multilanguage parents when working as a maternity nanny (short work placements), in Belgium I worked with a mother who's parents spoke Flemmish, French and English, they mixed the languages and both parents used any of these languages unually mixed when speaking to their 4 children, the children were educated in Flemmish, as a consequence the mother I was working for did not know when she was speaking English to me and when French and occasionally Flemmish words were included, it caused a lot of problems for her, she had a better grasp of Flemmish because it was the only language used at school, but to me she was a very good example of why the need to keep the languages separate is so important,

a Jewish couple I worked with, also in Belgium, were bringing their children up with 5 languages, mum =English, dad = French, school = Flemmish, family gatherings = Yiddish, Synagogue = Hebrew, those children are so lucky imho,

Frances

Me in a rare cheerful mood

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"I can give you a person example of when mulitlingualism does not work... a mother whose parents spoke Flemish, French and English, they mixed the languages and both parents used any of these languages usually mixed when speaking to their 4 children"

Silly sods.  That would obviously cause problems, surely?

An Indian chap I worked with had brought his wife and daughter here with him.  He only ever spoke Hindi to his daughter, his wife only spoke English to her.  The idea was the girl should be able to live in India or Britain in later life according to circumstance or choice.  He came in to work one day telling us he had been chastised by his little girl.  His daughter had caught him talking in English to his wife and he had to confess he was bilingual and had been lying when he said he said did not understand her when she spoke English.  It had never dawned on her why he could understand his wife when she spoke English to him, nor how he held down a job in England without any English.  big grin

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Hello Patrick,

That is a very good point on suppressed bilingualism, and each case of this is unique and I guess will have social, political or personal reasons for being so.

A Polish friend of mine told me that her parents --who were children during the war-- were not allowed to speak their own Language (Polish) at School. 

In Madame Currie's biography, written by her daughter, Eve Currie, the first chapter is about Marie Currie (or Marya Sklodovska's) childhood. It was during a time of Russian occupation in Poland, Polish was banned in schools and children where taught their subjects in Russian. So I guess that could also be considered suppressed bilingualism? its sad, but there are many examples of this in history, and many lost languages.

Similar situations in Catalonia, going back a few years, during the Franco regime, the Catalan language and even Catalan personal names (like Jordi, the name of the Patron Saint of Catalonia) were actually banned. I guess if you were a child at this time and you were punished for speaking your mother tongue that could have long life consequences on your persona.

I totally agree with your other comment Patrick, that Bilingualism should be encouraged in children and there is no scientific evidence that it slows down the children's development. I know many children that by the age of 14 are trilingual. Speaking fluently 3 languages with no effort of any kind and a lifetime ahead of them to learn anything else they want.

Rose


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Thanks for your comments, Rose.

I think the case of Rosen's mother seems different in that it was something she chose to do rather than something that was imposed on her (eg the case of Russian being imposed in Poland).  I do not know about that case but perhaps people could speak Polish in private spaces whereas if I have read Rosen's description correctly, it was because the language had such painful memories for her that she chose not to speak it.