Bilingual autobiographical memory: Experimental studies and clinical cases

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This paper argues that the consecutive bilingual's dual cultural-linguistic self-representations act as filters for memory retrieval of events from the personal past. Examination of work in experimental psychology on bilingual autobiographical memory and clinical case reports from psychoanalytic therapy with bilinguals suggests that memory retrievals for events from childhood and youth (in the country of origin) are more numerous, more detailed and more emotionally marked when remembering is done in the first language ('mother tongue') rather than in the second language. The mechanism accounting for this phenomenon has been identified as encoding specificity and state-dependent learning, where the bilingual's languages are considered the operative 'states' at encoding and retrieval. The paper suggests that this notion of 'states' be refined to include cultural-linguistic self-representations attending language socialization in first and second cultures. Such language-specific self-representations act as linguistically mediated 'states' that may or may not match similar states at encoding and thus account for qualitative and quantitative differences in retrieval.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-417
Number of pages31
JournalCulture and Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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