Can you lose your first language?
Dr. Loraine K. Obler, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, and alumn of our very own Department (Ph.D. 1975) will deliver the Rackham Centennial Colloquium in Linguistics. The talk title and abstract is given below.
Can You Lose Your First Language?
In this paper, I ask what would constitute evidence that a first language is lost and what would constitute counter-evidence, weighing what we know about the factors that may condition first-language attrition or loss. I consider both monolinguals like the sailor described by William Lloyd Garrison in 1845 who had "forgotten his native language" as the result of enslavement in Africa, along with bilingual adults who report no longer knowing theirs. Evidence of partial language loss in populations like those with different types of aphasia and dementia will be considered, as will that in bilinguals or multilinguals for whom a later-learned language has become dominant. I conclude that even a first language must be used in order to be maintained in the face of a competing language, and that some obverse of the notion of Critical Period appears to interact with a threshold of language proficiency achieved to determine degree of first-language sparing.