Attitudes to Languages and Bilingualism in the Context of Residential Care for Older Persons
Friday, April 8, 09:30-10:30
Angela Medina, PhD
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Florida International University
Nicole Müller, PhD
Professor and Head
Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences
University College Cork
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.