A Really Good Question

It’s funny, and quite unsettling, how some of your child’s questions make you realize you have been blind to certain important consequences of your life choices. Even when you have made these choices very deliberately and you have a chock-full list of pros and cons, a simple question can suddenly make you aware that you missed something significant.

Minette asked me such a question earlier this year. “Maman, which language will I speak to my children?” Like I explained before, our choice to speak each our native language to our daughter aims at connecting her with her French and Indian heritages in an intimate way first and foremost. I have told her that, by being fluent in her three languages, she will be able to be close to her families, to feel at home in her three countries, and to pass on her heritages to her children if she has some.

Yes, but how exactly will that last part work? She won’t speak her three languages to them in rotation, God forbid. She and her partner will have to make a decision that makes sense to them and that will obviously not replicate ours, because their children’s circumstances will surely be different. Most likely, they will have to trim the language tree to one language per parent at most, including English.

I believe that our intent sharing of our languages and cultures with Minette is entirely worthwhile. Her question is not challenging that conviction. But it makes me aware that some of our efforts will be lost on the next generation and that somehow puts things in a different light. It makes me realize that the family language setting we have chosen is much less permanent than I’d like to admit. As illustrated by many generations of immigrants in America, multilingualism is a transient state in families and it rarely spans more than two generations.

This is humbling but not disheartening in my opinion, for two reasons. The first one is that Minette’s heritages will not be lost on her and will make her life richer and that, in itself, has value for a parent. The second reason is that multilingualism in its successive waves has also enriched this society. And I trust it will continue to do so.

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