On the Bilingual's
Two Sets of Memories
Robert W. Schrauf
Northwestern University Medical School
David C. Rubin
People who grow up in one place and move in early adulthood or later to another country, adopt its customs, and learn its language, offer a unique window into the effects of language and culture on autobiographical memory. Linguistically speaking, such adult immigrants are “sequential”or “late”bilinguals, because they learn one language and then, after childhood and adolescence, learn a second language. Culturally speaking, they are individuals who, having been “enculturated” into the culture of origin from infancy, engage later in life in a subsequent process of “acculturation”into the culture of adoption (Schrauf, 2002). Because both of these changes—second language acquisition and acculturation—are complex psychological processes including cognitive and affective elements, immigration affords a kind of “natural” experiment for viewing the effects of culture change on memory. Culture and language (although confounded) are the “independent variable. ” The “test group” comprises immigrants with a “dual” language and enculturation. In the “control group” are individuals left in a state of “single” language and enculturation. History has designed the experiment. People emigrate.
From the perspective of autobiographical memory, immigration occasions profound changes. In a crude cognitive sense, there are two of “something” here: two sets of mental organizations and two contexts of encoding and retrieval. Nevertheless, translating the complex experience of immigration—