Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login

The LINGUIST List is dedicated to providing information on language and language analysis, and to providing the discipline of linguistics with the infrastructure necessary to function in the digital world. LINGUIST is a free resource, run by linguistics students and faculty, and supported by your donations. Please support LINGUIST List during the 2017 Fund Drive.

Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Multilingual senior stuck in one language, not his native tongue
Question: I was wondering if you have encountered this problem before. My 99 year old uncle who has been living in Canada, practising medicine and speaking English for almost 70 years, has suddenly begun to speak only Spanish. He lived in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. We can also get him to speak French, as he lived in France shortly thereafter. Neither of these is his native tongue. He grew up speaking Hungarian and German in the home and at school. We think a Spanish speaking caregiver has unlocked a door to a period of his life and closed off another. We are anxious to get him to communicate with us again in English as this Spanish speaking is causing a lot of problems. He is otherwise in good health both mentally and physically. He understands that he should be speaking English and acknowledges, in Spanish or French, that he is having trouble speaking English. Do you have any suggestions?
Reply: I would infer that your uncle probably had a minor stroke that caused some damage. You might therefore want to take him to a neurologist. This kind of phenomenon does occur. I doubt that it is the caregiver's "fault." You might also want to consult a speech-language pathologist who specializes in multilingualism, or at least who speaks Spanish.
Reply From: Susan D Fischer      click here to access email
Date: 22-Apr-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Multilingual senior stuck in one language, not his native tongue    Elizabeth J Pyatt     (22-Apr-2013)
  2. Re: Multilingual senior stuck in one language, not his native tongue    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (23-Apr-2013)

Back to Most Recent Questions