Author Topic: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?  (Read 329 times)

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Online mystery-ak

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https://theconversation.com/can-bowe-bergdahl-really-have-forgotten-how-to-speak-english-27610

 5 June 2014, 6.07am BST
Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?

When US soldier Bowe Bergdahl was released after being held captive by the Afghan Taliban for five years, his father said his son was “having trouble speaking English”. Many will find this statement incredible: is it really possible to forget your native language?

The answer depends on many factors. The first is what we mean by “forgetting”. Would it, for example, be possible for a mother tongue to be completely forgotten, so that a person cannot understand, or even recognise it anymore? The answer is yes, but only if she or he lost contact with that language before puberty.

Studies of international adoptees show that they very rapidly and completely forget their mother tongue, even if they are as old as eight years at the time that they are adopted. As adults, they may no longer be able to recognise the simplest words of the language they had first learned, and if they try to learn it again, they have few, if any advantages, over novice learners.

But those who are older than 12 years old when contact with their native tongue is interrupted will probably retain at least some proficiency for the rest of their lives. They will not only be able to communicate in this language and understand most of it, it will also be much easier for them to learn it again later on. They may have some problems accessing the correct words, they may become somewhat less fluent, and they may develop a foreign accent, but none of these will seriously impair their functioning in that language.

This is good news for Bergdahl and his family. Any problems that he may currently have, for example, remembering some English words, speaking with a foreign accent or making grammatical mistakes, are likely to be temporary, and to disappear quickly – probably within weeks.
Limited usage

What other factors, then, might have caused these problems? While held in captivity, Bergdahl probably had very little occasion to speak or hear English. But how frequently someone uses their language plays a far smaller role for the maintenance of this language than one might think. Several studies have attempted to probe this, and all have found a complete absence of any correlation between frequency of use and degree of language loss.

These findings may appear counter intuitive, but they suggest that, for adult speakers, the native language has become so deeply entrenched and so frequently rehearsed, that it will remain active in memory despite the fact that it is hardly used at all, sometimes for decades.
Pashto pushing out English

On the other hand, many people will know the phenomenon that when they try to learn a new language, other languages (their native language, or other foreign languages) will keep “butting in”. When trying to focus on the new language, the language learner will therefore have to repress or inhibit this knowledge very strongly, and once this has been done for any length of time, it can then become harder to switch back to the language that has been so actively inhibited.

If Bergdahl made a very strong effort to learn Pashto, and if he was encouraged or even forced by his captors not to use English, that may therefore now account for some of the troubles he is having. Again, any such problems are like to be temporary and vanish within, at most, a few weeks’ time.

Traumatic experiences may also be a factor when it comes to forgetting or suppressing a language. In the absence of information about what happened during Bergdahl’s captivity, we can only speculate on this, but it does seem a strong possibility that this may have played a part. In this event, it would probably be necessary to address the trauma itself, and not the linguistic problems that it might have caused.

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Offline massadvj

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2014, 09:35:32 AM »
This whole "forgot how to speak English" business is entirely too convenient for my taste.  I simply do not believe it.
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Offline alicewonders

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2014, 09:38:50 AM »
I tend to think that the line about him having trouble with English was a ruse for the father to be able to speak the phrase he uttered in Pashtu or Arabic, or whatever language he used.  I've heard some say that the father basically staked a claim for Allah at the White House.  It was creepy. 

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Offline katzenjammer

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2014, 10:04:58 AM »
I can't remember the exact timing of when I first heard that his father said that his son was having trouble speaking English, but it was pretty early on Sunday morning or late on Saturday night.  My thought at the time, that still remains, was "How the heck did he find that out?"  It seemed way too early for that bit of "information" to have made it to him.  (Aside from the fact that it doesn't ring true.  The thing about a native language is this: it is how we learn how to 'think' and process all information and stimuli.  It never goes away.  Assuming English is his native language, it is the basis of how his brain functions on many levels.  One of the difficulties that we all have as we learn to speak additional languages, is learning how to "think" in the new language.)

Online mountaineer

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2014, 10:26:36 AM »
A video of Bergdahl from Dec. 2013 and a letter sent in 2013 show he was in full command of the English language - see it here
So he forgot English in about 6 months?
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Offline alicewonders

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2014, 10:37:12 AM »
A video of Bergdahl from Dec. 2013 and a letter sent in 2013 show he was in full command of the English language - see it here
So he forgot English in about 6 months?


Good observation!

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Offline Rivergirl

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2014, 10:44:02 AM »
And how is it that O understands Arabic after not speaking it for nearly fifty years.

The statement by the father was a message to his son..........don't speak English during debriefing.  Make it as difficult as possible.

Offline Chieftain

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2014, 10:49:23 AM »
This whole "forgot how to speak English" business is entirely too convenient for my taste.  I simply do not believe it.

That was a part of the "served with honor and distinction" and "captured on the battlefield" "deathly ill" meme that none other than Susan Rice put out on the talk shows.  None of it is true.  That line was concocted in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including the official DOD report from 2010. 

The other thing I find very interesting is that it was none other than Tom Donilon who first came up with the idea of swapping Bowe al Ameriki for the Taliban's Dream Team.  But it was Susan Rice who revived this nonsense and who bullied everyone with a contrary opinion out of the loop and convinced Obama to do this on his own.


Offline Oceander

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2014, 11:42:25 AM »
How many Vietnam POWs "forgot" how to speak English?  Did McCain "forget" how to speak English?  His captivity lasted more than 5 years and was, I can safely say, orders of magnitude more "traumatic" than the coddling this little baby got.

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Re: Can Bowe Bergdahl really have forgotten how to speak English?
« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2014, 01:14:43 PM »
How many Vietnam POWs "forgot" how to speak English?  Did McCain "forget" how to speak English?  His captivity lasted more than 5 years and was, I can safely say, orders of magnitude more "traumatic" than the coddling this little baby got.
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