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 »  Articles Overview  »  Miscellaneous  »  The loss of mother tongue

The loss of mother tongue

By  633310 (X) | Published  08/23/2010 | Miscellaneous | Recommendation:
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633310 (X)
իտալերենից ռուսերեն translator
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Our first language is a gift from our mother. It’s not only a part of our culture but also a part of our mind and soul. When we arrive abroad our first language is influenced by the second language (the one used by the largest part of community in that country). For a professional translator it’s of utmost importance to have a good knowledge of his or her first language. In this paper we will study such issues as why we can lose our mother tongue abroad and if we can lose it completely, the importance of maintenance of mother tongue and how we should do it, the advantages and disadvantages of being an immigrant translator.

Terminology explanation

According to Oxford dictionary (1982, p. 160), “language loss” – means the loss or deterioration of competence in one’s first language or second language. In this paper only the loss of the first language is discussed.
“Immigrant translator” –is the term used in this paper to define a translator who had lived for at least 20 years in his country of origin and not the one born abroad and grown up in a family of immigrants. These are different things.
When we arrive in the foreign country it’s normal that our language is influenced by the language used by the largest part of community. There are different reasons for this “interference”. LAI Yu-Tung Carol in her article “Language maintenance and language loss in first language” argues that when immigrants decide to settle in the United States they become more exposed to the dominant group and have greater social pressure to learn the new language. English starts to replace their first language and finally becomes their daily language as they are assimilated into American language and culture. This is absolutely true but the loss of language happens not only under social pressure, (in order to quicker integrate immigrants into society) it’s also a voluntary process. When you go shopping or need to go to the doctor you are obliged to use the native language of the community in order to be understood.
But hopefully the cases of complete loss of the native language are very rare unless you’ve lived for a very long time abroad and had no contact with your native speakers. It’s unlikely we forget the basics of our language.

What is more difficult it's to be up-to-date about the modern vocabulary as language evolves all the time, new terms are introduced and the old ones are left apart. Grammar and syntax have less tendency to change. In order to be updated about new changes in your mother tongue it’s important to keep on reading books and newspapers in your native language and watch TV. Thanks to Internet and satellite facilities you can easily access the information that relates your native country.
For any professional translator it’s really important to have a good grasp of his or her native language. Exposing ourselves to the interference of a foreign language without any further maintenance of a native language may result in not knowing well either the former or the latter.

Now let’s get closer to the issue of translation process and immigrant translators. Some translation agencies prefer to employ translators who are not only native speakers of the target language but who are also located in the country of this target language. But is this true that translators in the country of the target language translate better than immigrant translators living elsewhere? First of all there are people who know well or less well their native language and no matter where they are located. Probably translators living in the country of the target language have some advantage – they are better exposed to changes in vocabulary of the native language and are quicker updated about it, on the other hand immigrant translators have their advantages too. They have a better understanding of a source text, of its special slang and local dialects, professional jargon which is far from being the same studied by colleagues located in the country of the target language.

Being multilingual is a great asset not only for a person but for a community as a whole.

Despite the fact that there are many difficulties in maintaining the native language immigrants, working as translators or not should make every effort to keep their native language since the rejection of our proper native language is shameful and has negative effects.

LAI Yu-Tung Carol “Language maintenance and language loss in first language”, US-China Foreign Language, Jul.2009, Vol. 7, N.70.

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