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Buxbaum, E. (1949). The Role of a Second Language in the Formation of Ego and Superego. Psychoanal Q., 18:279-289.

(1949). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 18:279-289

The Role of a Second Language in the Formation of Ego and Superego

Edith Buxbaum, Ph.D.

During the analyses of four patients with bilingual backgrounds, German and English, I had occasion to observe the way in which the ego and the superego contributed to the acquisition and use of a second language. From these observations some conclusions can be drawn as to the rôle of the second language in the formation of the ego and the superego.

Generally, people who learn a foreign language as adults retain an accent, even if they speak it fluently and without solecisms. Most children, however, who have part of their regular schooling in a second language, lose their native accent completely, while elders in their homes may still use their former tongue or use the new language incorrectly; yet there are exceptions among children. Some retain an accent and, although they may be unable to speak their native language, they never learn the new one perfectly. They are thus foreigners in both languages: to the old one because they cannot speak it, perhaps do not even understand it, and to the new one because their accent sets them apart from the rest of the people.

During the course of their analyses, two boys, both of German parents, lost their conspicuous accents. Their pronunciation was never discussed in the analysis. My own accent is of the kind I described above of people who speak fluently, having learned the language in adult life. An identification with my way of talking could not have improved their speech. It is therefore the more remarkable that, despite my own faulty pronunciation, these children should have improved theirs.

Eric, aged six, was an anxious, whiny boy. He was an only child who clung to his mother and had no relations with other


Read at the meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Washington, D. C., May 1948.

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