Language Matters: Memory and Language

Today, VN blog readers, I have a question for you.  But first, a story.

How closely is language tied to memory?

Over at, a man has related his only four memories from his childhood between 1939 and 1946.  Only four memories until age eight!  While not too unusual, it is a rather small number of memories.

On the other hand, a friend of his can relate many memories, in vivid detail, from the same years of her own life.  She remembers running at the sound of air raid sirens, eating terrible waxy margarine and drinking bitter tea, and how they slept at night.

Why would one person retain so many more memories than another?  The writer has two ideas:

1) His friend’s memories are of England during World War II, and are of a dramatic, vivid nature.  His memories, in contrast, are of a childhood in Canada without such dramatic events.

2) Until 1946, he only spoke Ukranian.  Now, as an adult, he has lost almost all knowledge of that language.  Could his childhood memories be tied to his childhood language?  Is the reason he can’t reach his memories because he no longer has the language of those memories?

What do you think?

If you learned a second language in the middle of childhood or later, are your earliest memories tied to your first language?  Do you “think” in your first language when remembering your earliest experiences?

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