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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Introduction


Mma Ramotswe had once come across somebody who had forgotten his Setswana, and she had been astonished, and shocked. This person had gone to live in Mozambique as a young man and had spoken Tsonga there, and learned Portuguese too. When he came back to Botswana, thirty years later, it seemed as if he were a foreigner, and she had seen him look puzzled when people used quite simple, everyday Setswana words. To lose your own language was like forgetting your mother, and as sad, in a way. We must not lose Setswana, she thought, even if we speak a great deal of English these days, because that would be like losing part of one's soul.

(Alexander McCall Smith, The Full Cupboard of Life)

Gertrud U. and Albert L. were born in Düsseldorf in the 1920s to families of German-Jewish descent. At the age of 13, they both fled to England to escape the Nazi atrocities. Gertrud U. subsequently settled in the United States, and Albert L. in England. In 1996, they were interviewed as part of an Oral History project by the Holocaust Memorial Museum of their native city, the Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Düsseldorf.

Their narratives constitute a rich and moving source of data, which is not only of historical but also of linguistic interest. After nearly six decades of life in an English-speaking environment, it is hardly surprising that both speakers sometimes use German in ways which are different from how native speakers who had never lived abroad would probably express themselves.