The Perils of Late Immigration

My mother had a friend named Edna. Late in life, around age 40, she moved out of her mother’s house, got married for the first time, went off to live with the guy on his big estate, then divorced in a few years when it all blew up.

After that, she went on a lifelong bender. Prior to that, she had hardly touched a drink. She died sometime in the past decade. My Mom wasn’t even all that sad; she figured it was inevitable. What an odd life she led. What strange secrets did she hide from the world that sent her tossing adrift on life’s rough seas? What had happened in that strange and short marriage? What makes a teetotaler hit the bottle at 40 and never put it down until she’s dead?

Anyway, Edna was Norwegian, or her mother was at any rate. Her mother had come from Norway to the US. At some point, the father died, and there was no one to speak Norwegian to anymore.

One time, her mother was in a state of linguistic existential despair. She was in a prison of language, with a No Exit sign on the door.

“I haf forgotten all of my Norvegian!” she moaned. “Ent I never lernt gut the English!”

A person without a language is a sad thing. A person who once had a language, and now has none, has lost the next best thing to life itself. You’re naked and crippled at the same time, probably for the rest of your life.

What to do? Pour a drink, no?

2 thoughts on “The Perils of Late Immigration”

  1. Dear Robert
    You are right in pointing out that there many immigrants who are what I call bisemilingual, that is, they speak two half languages. There are also those whom I call mixilinguals, that is, they constantly mix two languages.
    Still, it seems that in old age the rule is: first in, last out. When immigrants go senile, they may end up speaking only their first tongue, which in many instances condemns to linguistic isolation. One nurse told me recently that she had a senior patient who had relapsed into her native Russian, and now was unable to communicate with anybody else in the nursing home. Very sad! No wait, it is part of the joys of international migration and one more blessing of diversity.

    Regards. James

  2. Reminds me a Vietnamese classmate I had in French class. English was a second language which he didn’t speak very well. His French was as bad as mine, that is, worse than zero. But he was driven and got an M.D., unfortunately he progressively lost a lot of Vietnamese from non-use. He became referred to as “the doctor without a language”.

    Language deteriorates from non-use rather easily. Even a native language. It can happen to, especially, very focused and goal driven people, like my Vietnamese friend.

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