- I used to speak and understand five modern languages. I acquired Swiss German from birth, and learnt Standard German at school starting from when I was 7. Later I also studied French, English, and Italian – in that order – at school. I then attended university in the USA and Britain before returning to Switzerland. In 2009 I suffered a stroke and a massive brain haemorrhage, initially losing all of my language faculties. Even today I continue to suffer from aphasia1, a (partial) language deficit caused by a lesion in the brain.
- I have now recovered two of my languages – Swiss German and English. I am still undergoing speech therapy for my French. But, so far, there has been very little or no recovery of my active command of Standard German, though I can read it and understand what’s happening on TV. The same is true for my Italian. This has been an enormously distressing experience for me personally. As I am a Professor of English Linguistics at the University of Lausanne, this situation has raised some very interesting questions for me, intellectually and professionally.
- Multilingualism is not easy to define, of course, and a variety of statements about the exact meaning of the term can be found in the scientific literature. Broadly speaking, a multilingual person is somebody who can communicate in more than two languages. Since the 1950s, there has been an explosion in studies of bi- and multilingual patients who have experienced brain damage or strokes, and the recovery of their language abilities. These have focused on the place of lesion, age of acquisition, language proficiencies at the time of stroke, emotional involvement with languages and, finally, relative distance between the languages for a multilingual person.
- For example, research has shown that 45% of bilingual people experience parallel recovery of both languages to the same level at the same rate. However, 25% and 20% respectively have a better command of either their first language or their second language, and the remainder switch languages within a sentence or alternate languages between sentences.
- The scenario may be much more complex for multilingual patients.
See Link. Required reading for "van Oostendorp (Marc) - Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics".
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