Saturday, March 28, 2009

Loss of a first language

For the last decade one of my research projects has been bilingualism.  A key question is  loss of fluency of the mother tongue for children of immigrants, and what family socialization and other practices lead to maintenance.  English almost always becomes rapidly the dominant language for children who arrive in the U.S. by age 9.   Mixed dominance occurs for arrivals between age 10 and 16, and first language superiority (and low acquisition of English) then is the most frequent (although not universal) fate of older immigrants.
I just stumbled across an interesting piece of short fiction which dramatizes in a couple handful of words events from age 5 to 25 and the disparate language learning trajectories of child and parents.  Enjoy! 

By Samuel Lee

my foreign mouth embarrassed the teachers. my jumbled words gave people sad faces. so wrong these words of mine. even the mentally retarded girl would not talk to me. just looking at my garbled mouth made her slap herself. and my writing. oh no. my writing made the teachers cry. shaking their heads. all the time.....

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