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Fenichel, O. (1943). On Learning a New Language: Erwin Stengel. Int. J. Psa., XX, 1939, pp. 471–479.. Psychoanal Q., 12:146-147.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: On Learning a New Language: Erwin Stengel. Int. J. Psa., XX, 1939, pp. 471–479.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:146-147

On Learning a New Language: Erwin Stengel. Int. J. Psa., XX, 1939, pp. 471–479.

Otto Fenichel

In an informal discussion of experiences connected with the learning of new languages by adult persons, Stengel explores a new territory which seems to be important for the analysis of the ego. It is to be hoped that his observations will be elaborated more systematically.

The childhood phase of echolalia is absent in adults. The adult 'lacks the primitive mechanism of identification'. The adult superego is on guard to see that words and objects correspond, making them hesitant to go ahead and just talk as children do. The greater the hesitation, the more compulsive the defense mechanisms of the adult. 'The obsessional neurotical character therefore slows down the acquisition of a new language, although it may render eventual success more certain. But even the normally developed

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superego of the adult has a retarding effect upon the development of speech.' The individual images which accompany words change with learning a new language. They become more primitive and more concrete. 'Words in the native language call up a picture of a simple lifeless pattern, while the corresponding words in the foreign language call up the images of living actions.' Adult persons develop similar resistances towards new words as well as towards new names because new words necessitate a new distribution of libido. Some persons make good progress in learning up to a certain point where progress stops. 'The new language as spoken by them, seems to be the result of a compromise between the demands of reality and their emotional resistance against the new way of expressing themselves.' This resistance is primarily a narcissistic injury. Some persons, paradoxically, feel ashamed to express themselves correctly in a foreign language, especially in the use of idioms which do not exist in the native tongue. 'Foreign idioms force on us the pictorial thinking which we experience as a temptation as well as a danger.' The shame is inhibited exhibitionism.

Psychoanalyzing in a foreign language makes analysis more difficult. The linguistic insecurity of the analyst is exploited by the patient's resistance. In most instances, patients adapt themselves to the stage of the psychoanalyst's knowledge of the language.

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Article Citation

Fenichel, O. (1943). On Learning a New Language. Psychoanal. Q., 12:146-147

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