Where have all my languages gone? Aging and the changing multilingual linguistic ecology

17 Sep 2021 03.30 PM - 05.30 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
SoH Communications Office

The acceleration of an ageing population affects society in many ways and the most profound upheaval is the drastic change in linguistic landscape we are witnessing the world over. In this talk, we look at older adults, who, like a Singaporean version of Rip Van Winkle, find themselves aging in a world of unfamiliar languages in the very home they have lived all their lives. While much emphasis has been placed on healthy ageing, the importance of communication continues to be underestimated. This study examines current communicative needs of older adults in Singapore in medical encounters. Using an ethnographic interview methodology, 30 elderly older adults and 5 healthcare providers were interviewed. The study documents how this group of older adults faced significant communication barriers and were displaced in their own community on a daily basis. On a social level, there is disruption in intergenerational communication due to differing language repertoires between the younger and older generation and increasing reliance of the older adults on others for their daily care due to the difficulty of finding a common language. This in turn leads to a growing sense of isolation. This seminar outlines the trajectory of lives that began in thriving multilingual and diverse contexts to one where linguistic pragmatism has promoted the rise of some languages and the demise of others. This discussion takes into account the notion of linguistic justice and documents the experience of a specific group of marginalised older adults who have sadly become an afterthought with the ideological repositioning of language policies.

About the Speakers:

Francesco Cavallaro and Ng Bee Chin