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LINGUIST List 18.3498

Fri Nov 23 2007

FYI: Looking for Persons Who Have Forgotten a Language

Editor for this issue: F. Okki Kurniawan <okkilinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Jeff Bowers, Looking for Persons Who Have Forgotten a Language

Message 1: Looking for Persons Who Have Forgotten a Language
Date: 20-Nov-2007
From: Jeff Bowers <j.bowersbris.ac.uk>
Subject: Looking for Persons Who Have Forgotten a Language
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Can you completely forget a language you once knew?

Learning a foreign language late in life can be rewarding but hard work.
One of the challenges is a lack of familiarity with unfamiliar sounds. For
example, a Japanese speaker finds it hard to distinguish between ‘l’ and
‘r’, which can create confusion with words like ‘lice’ and ‘rice’.

Children, however, have little difficulty learning a second language, and
they can quickly master a foreign accent and sound like a native speaker.
So, what happens if they stop speaking the second language? Do they stop
perceiving those crucial distinctions? The surprising answer appears to be

A recent French study looked at Korean-born children who were adopted by
French parents living in France. After adoption, these children were no
longer exposed to Korean. The key finding was that these individuals, when
tested in their 20s and 30s, could not distinguish between Korean and
Japanese. The conclusion appears to be that learning a second language in
childhood is in vain if exposure to that language isn’t sustained.

Professor Jeffrey Bowers and Dr. Sven Mattys in the Department of
Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol UK have received a
£180,000 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council to undertake
research in this field. They are currently looking for subjects to take
part in their study. Would you like to participate?

1. Are you between 10 and 80 years of age?
2. Are you a native English speaker?
3. Were you exposed to Hindi, Zulu, Cantonese or Mandarin during childhood?
Maybe you were born in India, South Africa or China and later moved with
your family to the UK or US. Maybe you were adopted from one of these
countries. Maybe your parents worked in one of these countries for a time
when you were a child. Maybe you had a carer who spoke one of these
languages. You must have not been re-exposed to these languages in later life.
4. Are you available to take part in several 15-minute sessions measuring
sound perception?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of the above and would like to find out more
about the study, contact Suzi Gage at suzi.gagebristol.ac.uk. If you are
eligible to participate, the research can be carried out in your own home,
anywhere in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia as well. You will be
reimbursed for your time.
You can learn more about this study at:

Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics; Cognitive Science; Language Acquisition; Phonetics; Phonology; Psycholinguistics

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