top of page
  • Writer's pictureHLE Network

"I can't say my own name": The pain of language loss in families

July 27, 2023

This post is a promotion of an article from BBC Future from June 26; all quotes below are taken from the article.

Mother tongue or "othertongue"?

For anyone interested in heritage language education, this is a must-read and a must-share article from BBC Future. It is written by Mithu Sanyal, who never learned her father's native language, Bengali. As a result, she can not even say her own name correctly. What's more, she also did not learn her mother's native language, Polish.

I think of these lost languages as our "othertongues." They are present in our ancestry and childhood memories, and yet, strangely out of reach, because we never learned them ourselves, or we were encouraged to forget. -- Mithu Sanyal

Shame, loss, and regret

In her reflective article, Ms. Sanyal discussed her situation with other adults who experienced language loss, as well as with linguistic experts. It is true: language loss can be bring with it negative feelings and experiences. "Language regret" refers to the sense of lost opportunity by a parent or child when a language was not learned. Unknown languages to a child can be surrounded by a sense of secrecy or being unwelcome and kept out. Children who "should" be bilingual can be shamed by the wider language community for not being fluent, leading to troubles when forming identity. Young people might bottle up feelings, which can affect them after reaching adulthood.

I still feel the pain of not being able to read the books my father loved when he was a child. -- Mithu Sanyal

Changing attitudes

This article touches, in a very personal way, on the many critical issues surrounding linguistic diversity: the political status of languages, language attitudes and discrimination, misconceptions, immigration, integration, and intercultural identity. Ms. Sanyal concludes that -- while it may not be too late for her to learn a bit of Bengali or Polish -- societies should more actively embrace multilingualism, nurture it in children, and celebrate it.

By sharing this article, you might help change attitudes about linguistic diversity and the importance of maintaining heritage languages. Click on the social media share buttons below to pass this on to others!

The poet Noel Quiñones, who was born and raised in the US, describes the experience of having Puerto Rican ancestry yet not being fluent in Spanish

See also


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page