And while we’re posting about French at Stirling-related research, this seems a perfect opportunity to post this article about what our colleague, Aedín ní Loingsigh, has been up to over the past couple of months.
Back in June, Aedín was part of a team of academics and actors who organised a one-day workshop on Dementia and Bilingualism at the Insight Institute in the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. As this BBC Alba film shows, the performance-led day created a very different kind of event to the usual format of academic and voluntary sector conferences.
A dramatic reading of the play ‘Five to Midnight’ (provisional title) portrayed the experiences of ‘Mary’ who, with the onset of dementia begins to lose her ability to speak in English and returns to Scottish Gaelic, her mother tongue. The play, performed in separate parts, was interspersed with audience reflection and three panel discussions on bilingualism in the medical context, dementia’s impact on the family and the bilingual community and bilingualism and the arts.
The play prompted much discussion about changing roles and relationships in families affected by dementia. Mary’s husband ‘John’ does not speak Gaelic. Meanwhile, Mary’s adult son finds himself being pulled into the not always comfortable role of interpreter between his parents and those around Mary who do not understand Gaelic.
As Mary’s dementia progresses, she becomes increasingly cut off from the English-speaking world. Audience members without Gaelic language skills are exposed to more and more Gaelic monologues and conversations as the play unrolls, mirroring John’s experience of being increasingly locked out of his wife’s world. This experience fosters audience empathy with characters in the play who are separated by language divides.
Dementia’s impact on language is a key clinical and care issue, and science has shown that monolingual and bilingual individuals are affected differently.
Of course, the play focuses on a very specific linguistic context. However, students of French may be interested in this interview with the Canadian actress Louise Pitre who speaks about the struggles she had to find linguistically cognate care for her native French-speaking parents in anglophone Canada. As the project continues, it is hoped that it will highlight the need for wider recognition of the role of language and cultural understanding for the care needs of bilingual individuals living with dementia.
Aedín has also been busy on the publication front with entries on ‘Anthropology’, ‘Coevalness’, ‘Ethnicity’, ‘Primitivism’ and ‘Translation’ in Key Words for Travel Writing Studies: A Critical Glossary and a chapter on ‘Migrant Travel Narratives’ in The Routledge Research Companion to Travel Writing.
Many thanks to Aedín for this update and keep an eye on the blog for more news over the weeks ahead.