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ISMBS 2022 Special Lecture

Attitudes to Languages and Bilingualism in the Context of Residential Care for Older Persons

Friday, April 8, 09:30-10:30

Abstract below

Angela Medina, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Florida International University


Nicole Müller, PhD
Professor and Head                           
Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences
University College Cork



Martin J. Ball, D.Litt., PhD
Honorary Professor
Bangor University




Background: In earlier work (Müller, 2017) we have shown how pro-active bilingual practices and contextual adaptation of language choice supports participation, as well as positive identity construal, for nursing home residents, both with and without cognitive-communication disabilities as a consequence of dementia. In this paper, we present detailed analyses of the linguistic expression of Irish-English bilingual speakers’ attitudes towards language(s), language use and speakers, in the context of wide-spread but not universal bilingualism in an Irish nursing home.
Methods: The data analysed are transcripts of approximately 7 hours of unstructured interviews on the general topic of experiences of Irish-English bilinguals among staff (N=4) and residents (N=2). We applied Appraisal Analysis (grounded in Systemic Functional Linguistics) in order to map out speakers’ expression of attitudes towards language(s), speakers, and language use.
Results: Residents appraise speakers in terms of language skills and their own bilingual status as positive and advantageous. Talk about languages and speakers is used to construe competent and discerning self-identities. Staff members evidence a high degree of awareness of residents’ language preferences and comment on residents’ appraisal of language skills as positive and identity-affirming. In addition, they emphasize the importance of residents’ preferred language as a contributor to quality of life and for emotional connectedness, and consider linguistic inclusivity a vital ingredient in the daily life of the nursing home. Languages and bilingualism are also linked with local identity and rootedness, which is seen to create a sense of community which spans generations.
Conclusions: Appraisal analysis permits insight into the linguistic tools speakers use to construe attitudes and identities. In a bilingual residential context, fostering positive speaker identities through language use creates a supportive bilingual environment, which in turn also fosters inclusive discursive practices: Language preferences are respected, while communication gaps are bridged by mediation (dual language use or translation, code-switching). This puts skills into the foreground and de-emphasizes cognitive-communicative impairments.
Müller, N. (2017). ‘Fear nó bean, a man or a woman?’ Bilingual encounters in residential eldercare in Ireland. In C. Plejert, C. Lindholm, & R. W. Schrauf (Eds.), Multilingual interaction and dementia (pp. 57–73). Multilingual Matters.