Bilingualism and emotion in the autobiographical works of Nancy Huston

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Research on the links between bilingualism and emotion suggests that when a second language is learned postpuberty or in adulthood, the two languages of an individual may differ in their emotional impact. The works of bilingual writer Nancy Huston offer unique insight into the process of ascribing differential emotional value to first and second languages. In her autobiographical writing, Huston explores the process of being and becoming bilingual in French and English, detailing the evolving emotional impact of her two languages across the narrative of her life. While she pointedly attributes her development as a writer to the learning of French, her language of distance and detachment, she also retains and deliberately cultivates strong emotional ties to English, her first language, and in fact, to the creative distance between languages. This paper examines Huston's reflections on bilingualism and emotions as discursive constructions, illuminating the process of electing a new emotional life through a foreign language. Analysis of Huston's writings suggests that the nuances of this personal story do not necessarily fit neatly into extant categories of 'motivation' and 'investment', but must be subject to a socioculturally and sociohistorically situated analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-178
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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