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Language attrition: losing one's native tongue

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nomad soul

Joined: 31 Jan 2010
Posts: 11454
Location: The real world

PostPosted: Sun Jul 08, 2018 8:48 am    Post subject: Language attrition: losing one's native tongue Reply with quote

Can You Lose Your Native Language?
Sophie Hardach, BBC | 8 June 2018

I’m sitting in my kitchen in London trying to figure out a text message from my brother. We speak German to each other, a language that’s rich in quirky words, but I’ve never heard this one before: fremdschämen. ‘Stranger-ashamed’?

Most long-term migrants know what it’s like to be a slightly rusty native speaker. The process seems obvious: the longer you are away, the more your language suffers. But it’s not quite so straightforward.

The science of why, when and how we lose our own language is complex and often counter-intuitive. It turns out that how long you’ve been away doesn’t always matter. Socialising with other native speakers abroad can worsen your own native skills. And emotional factors like trauma can be the biggest factor of all.

It’s also not just long-term migrants who are affected, but to some extent anyone who picks up a second language.

“The minute you start learning another language, the two systems start to compete with each other,” says Monika Schmid, a linguist at the University of Essex.

Schmid is a leading researcher of language attrition, a growing field of research that looks at what makes us lose our mother tongue. In children, it's somewhat easier to explain since their brains are generally more flexible and adaptable. Until about age 12, a person’s language skills are relatively vulnerable to change. Studies on international adoptees have found that even nine-year-olds can almost completely forget their first language when they are removed from their country of birth.

But in adults, the first language is unlikely to disappear entirely except in extreme circumstances.

(End of excerpt)
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 11, 2018 3:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting article. I felt these things starting to happen when I lived in Japan. I was always hungry to learn more Japanese, so my mind was often busy gathering, analyzing, rehearsing, and building. I also preferred certain Japanese expressions because they better captured the Japanese nuance of something, and many of my Anglophone coworkers seemed to prefer those expressions too. I never got to the point of forgetting English, but my mind definitely went to certain Japanese expressions first. I miss it.
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