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哪种情况下我们会忘记自己的母语

更新时间:2018-7-3 20:16:45 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Can you lose your native language?
哪种情况下我们会忘记自己的母语

I’m sitting in my kitchen in London, trying to figure out a text message from my brother. He lives in our home country of Germany. 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’?

我坐在自己伦敦住所的厨房里,想要弄明白我哥发来的短信是什么意思。他住在我们的祖国——德国。我们之间讲德语,一种充满了怪词的语言,但我从来没有听过这个词:fremdschämen。"对陌生人很羞耻"?

I’m too proud to ask him what it means. I know that eventually, I’ll get it. Still, it’s slightly painful to realise that after years of living abroad, my mother tongue can sometimes feel foreign.

我的自尊心很强,可不想去问他这是什么意思,反正最后我肯定能搞清楚。然而,在国外生活多年,有时候会对母语感到陌生,这让我有一点痛苦。

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.

大多数长期在外的移民都知道说母语不太利索是什么感觉。这个过程似乎很明显:你离家越久,你的母语越差。不过这种转变并非直接就有。

In fact, 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.

其实,我们为何会忘记母语、何时忘记、怎么忘的,背后有复杂的科学原理,并且这经常是违背直觉的。事实证明,你背井离乡多久并不总是关键所在。与他国当地人交际,才会削弱自己的母语。而心灵创伤之类的情感因素,是最关键的影响。

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

不仅仅是长期在外的移民,所有在外语环境下获得外语能力的人,母语都会受到一定程度的影响。

“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.

"从你开始学习另一种语言的那一刻,两个语言系统就开始相互竞争," 埃塞克斯大学语言学家施密德(Monika Schmid)说。

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, the phenomenon is somewhat easier to explain since their brains are generally more flexible and adaptable. Until the age of about 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.

施密德是语言损耗领域的尖端研究者。这个新兴领域研究的是,让我们母语变差的原因是什么。这一现象在儿童中比较容易解释,因为他们的大脑一般来说更为灵活、适应性强。12岁前,人的语言能力很容易变化。研究跨国收养的孩子就能发现,即使离开祖国时已经九岁,几乎也能彻底忘记母语。

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

对成年人而言,除非有极端情况,否则不太可能完全忘记母语。

For example, Schmid analysed the German of elderly German-Jewish wartime refugees in the UK and the US. The main factor that influenced their language skills wasn’t how long they had been abroad or how old they were when they left. It was how much trauma they had experienced as victims of Nazi persecution. Those who left Germany in the early days of the regime, before the worst atrocities, tended to speak better German – despite having been abroad the longest. Those who left later, after the 1938 pogrom known as Reichskristallnacht, tended to speak German with difficulty or not at all.

例如,一批德国犹太裔的二战难民老人,现居英国和美国。施密德分析其德语后发现,影响他们母语水平的主要因素并非多大年纪时背井离乡,离开了多久,而是他们在纳粹迫害下遭受了多少心灵创伤。走得早,避开了纳粹暴行的那批人,尽管在国外呆得久,德语还是讲得要好一些。那些在1938年"水晶之夜"大屠杀(纳粹有组织屠杀犹太人的第一步)后离开的人,讲德语就不太利索了,甚至完全不讲。

“It seemed very clearly a result of this trauma,” says Schmid. Even though German was the language of childhood, home and family, it was also the language of painful memories. The most traumatised refugees had suppressed it. As one of them said: “I feel that Germany betrayed me. America is my country, and English is my language.”

"看起来很明显,这是心灵受创的后果,"施密德说。尽管德语是童年、是家庭、是亲人的语言,它也是带来苦痛回忆的语言。受创最深的难民将它压在看不见的心底。正如其中一人所言:"我觉得德国背叛了我。美国才是我的国家,英语才是我的语言。"

Speech switch

语言切换

Such dramatic loss is an exception. In most migrants, the native language more or less coexists with the new language. How well that first language is maintained has a lot to do with innate talent: people who are generally good at languages tend to be better at preserving their mother tongue, regardless of how long they have been away.

当然,这种极端遗忘是很特殊的状况。对大多数移民而言,母语多多少少会和新语言并存。母语保持得好不好,跟天赋有很大关系,擅长语言的人,不管离家多久,母语也不太会忘。

But native fluency is also strongly linked to how we manage the different languages in our brain. “The fundamental difference between a monolingual and bilingual brain is that when you become bilingual, you have to add some kind of control module that allows you to switch,” Schmid says.

不过母语流利程度,与我们如何控制大脑中不同的语言息息相关。"单语和双语大脑之间的根本区别在于,当你说两门语言,你得在大脑里加一些控制模块,好让自己切换,"施密德说。

She gives an example. When she looks at the object in front of her, her mind can choose between two words, the English ‘desk’ and the German ‘Schreibtisch’ (Schmid is German). In an English context, her brain suppresses ‘Schreibtisch’ and selects ‘desk’, and vice versa. If this control mechanism is weak, the speaker may struggle to find the right word or keep slipping into their second language.

施密德举了个例子。当她看着面前的书桌,大脑可以在两个单词间选择:英语的"desk"和德语的"Schreibtisch"(施密德是德国人)。在英语环境中,她的大脑压制了"Schreibtisch",选择了"desk",反之亦然。如果这个控制机制很薄弱,说话的人说出正确的词之前会比较纠结,要么可能莫名说出另一种语言。

Mingling with other native speakers actually can make things worse, since there’s little incentive to stick to one language if you know that both will be understood. The result is often a linguistic hybrid.

实际上,和说其他语言的人生活在一起,会让事情变得更糟,一旦你发现说什么语言别人都能懂,你就很难坚持说一种语言。

In London, one of the world’s most multilingual cities, this kind of hybrid is so common that it almost feels like an urban dialect. More than 300 languages are spoken here, and more than 20% of Londoners speak a main language other than English. On a Sunday stroll through the parks of North London, I catch about a dozen of them, from Polish to Korean, all mixed with English to varying degrees.

伦敦是世界上语言最混杂的城市之一,这里语言混杂之常见,几乎让你觉得各种语言是城里的方言而非外语。在这儿,人们说超过300种语言,20%以上伦敦人的主要语言不是英语。周日在伦敦北部的公园里散步,从波兰语到韩语,我都能听到,而且都不同程度混杂着英语。

Stretched out on a picnic blanket, two lovers are chatting away in Italian. Suddenly, one of them gives a start and exclaims: “I forgot to close la finestra!”

在一张野餐垫子上躺着一对恋人,正在用意大利语聊天。突然,其中一人一个激灵,惊呼:"我忘了关la finestra(意大利语:窗户)!"

In a playground, three women are sharing snacks and talking in Arabic. A little boy runs up to one of them, shouting: “Abdullah is being rude to me!” “Listen...” his mother begins in English, before switching back to Arabic.

操场上,三位女士正操着阿拉伯语分零食。一个小男孩跑到一位身边大叫:"阿卜杜拉(Abdullah)欺负我!""听着……"他妈妈开始说英语,说完又转回阿拉伯语。

Switching is of course not the same as forgetting. But Schmid argues that over time, this informal back-and-forth can make it harder for your brain to stay on a single linguistic track when required: “You find yourself in an accelerated spiral of language change.”

语言转换显然和语言遗忘不同。但施密德认为,随着时间推移,这种非正式的语言来回变换会让你的大脑很难在必要时停留在单一语言轨道上:"你感觉自己陷入一个加速的语言变化旋涡中。"

Speak out

话说出口

Laura Dominguez, a linguist at the University of Southampton, found a similar effect when she compared two groups of long-term migrants: Spaniards in the UK and Cubans in the US. The Spaniards lived in different parts of the UK and mostly spoke English. The Cubans all lived in Miami, a city with a large Latin American community, and spoke Spanish all the time.

南安普敦大学的语言学家多明格斯(Laura Dominguez),对英国的西班牙人、美国的古巴人这两组长期移民进行比较,发现了相似性。西班牙裔生活在英国各个地区,几乎都说英语。古巴裔几乎都住在迈阿密,这个城市有巨大的拉美族群,一直讲西班牙语。

“Obviously, all of the Spanish speakers in the UK said, ‘Oh, I forget words.’ This is typically what people tell you: ‘I have difficulty finding right word, especially when I use vocabulary that I learned for my job’,” Dominguez says. As a Spaniard who has spent most of her professional life abroad, she recognises that struggle, telling me: “If I had to have this conversation in Spanish with a Spanish person, I don’t think I could do it.”

多明格斯说:"很明显,所有在英国说西班牙语的人都会说,'哦,我忘了怎么说。'通常他们会告诉你, '我很难找到对的词,尤其是为了工作去学的词儿。'" 多明格斯也是长期在海外工作的西班牙人,她承认这种纠结,还告诉我:"非要我跟一个西班牙人用母语进行这种对话,那我不行。"

However, when she analysed her test subjects’ language use further, she found a striking difference. The isolated Spaniards had perfectly preserved their underlying grammar. But the Cubans – who constantly used their mother tongue – had lost certain distinctive native traits. The key factor was not the influence of English, but of Miami’s other varieties of Spanish. In other words, the Cubans had started to speak more like Colombians or Mexicans.

然而,当她进一步研究测试对象的语言使用时,发现一个惊人的差异。孤立生活的西班牙族群(如英国的西班牙裔)完全保留了母语的基本语法。但经常说母语的迈阿密古巴裔却丧失了一部分独特的母语特征。关键不在英语的影响力,而是迈阿密有多种多样的西班牙语。换句话说,古巴移民说话越来越像哥伦比亚或者墨西哥裔。

In fact, when Dominguez returned to Spain after her stay in the US, where she had many Mexican friends, her friends back home said she now sounded a little Mexican. Her theory is that the more familiar another language or dialect is, the more likely it is to change our native language.

事实上,多明格斯在美国待了一段时间后回到西班牙,遇到许多自己的墨西哥朋友,这些人就说她讲话有点墨西哥口音。多明格斯的理论是,一种语言或方言越像我们的母语,就越有可能改变我们的母语。

She sees this adaptability as something to celebrate – proof of our inventiveness as humans.

她将这种适应性看成值得庆贺的事——说明了人类很有创造力。

“Attrition is not a bad thing. It’s just a natural process,” she says. “These people have made changes to their grammar that is consistent with their new reality... Whatever allows us to learn languages also allows us to make these changes.”

"语言损耗并非坏事,而是一个自然过程,"她说,"这些人改变语法,符合他们当下的现实……那些促进我们学习这些语言的因素,也就是让我们作出这些改变的因素。"

It is nice to be reminded that from a linguist’s point of view, there is no such thing as being terrible at your own language. And native language attrition is reversible, at least in adults: a trip home usually helps. Still, for many of us, our mother tongue is bound up with our deeper identity, our memories and sense of self. Which is why I for one was determined to crack my brother’s mysterious text about ‘fremdschämen’ without any outside help.

从语言学家的角度来看,幸运的是,并没有母语已经忘得差不多了这回事儿。母语损耗是可逆的,至少成年人中如此:回一趟老家就能救回来。尽管如此,对我们很多人而言,母语和内心深处的归属感、昔日回忆和自我意识息息相关。这就是为什么,我就是不愿意求助别人来搞懂我哥那条"fremdschämen"的神秘信息。

To my relief, I figured it out pretty quickly. Fremdschämendescribes the sensation of watching someone do something so cringeworthy that you are embarrassed on their behalf. Apparently, it’s a popular word and has been around for years. It just passed me by, like countless other trends back home.

让我安慰的是,很快我就搞清楚了。这个词是指:看到别人做了一些不忍直视的事,让自己十分尴尬。显然,这是词流行很多年了。只不过就像老家其他潮流一样, 被我忽视了。

After 20 years abroad, I shouldn’t be surprised by this. Still, I have to admit that there is something a bit sad about my own brother using words I no longer understand; a hint of loss, perhaps, or unexpected distance. There’s probably a German word for that, too. But I’ll need a bit more time to recall it.

在国外待了20年,对此我没什么好惊讶的。但我不得不承认,看不懂自己亲兄弟用的词,着实有点伤感、有点失落,也许我们之间有了意想不到的距离。以上感觉也许也能用一个德语词来形容,不过得再给我一点时间想一想。

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