Bilingualism, Language Disorders and Intercultural Families in Contemporary Italy: Family Relations, Transmission of Language and Representations of Otherness

Cult Med Psychiatry. 2016 Mar;40(1):12-34. doi: 10.1007/s11013-015-9459-2.


This study aims to show how language disorders in children affect language transmission and the mixedness experience in intercultural families. To this end, it adopts a qualitative method of study based on the administration of ad hoc interviews to intercultural couples who consulted our Child Neuropsychiatry Service because of language disorders in their children. One of the main consequences, when the child of an intercultural couple presents a language disorder and a diagnostic process has to be initiated, may be interruption of the transmission of the second language, especially if it is the mother's language. The decision to do this, which may be taken on the advice of teachers and health professionals, but also because the parents themselves often attribute their child's language disorder to his bilingual condition, affects not only the relationship between the mother and her child, but also processes in the construction of parenthood and in the structuring of the child's personality and the plurality of his affiliations. A clear understanding of how the dialectic between the categories of "alien" and "familiar" is managed in these contemporary families, which have to reckon with the condition of otherness, is crucial for psychiatrists and psychotherapists working in settings in which cultural difference is an issue to consider.

Keywords: Bilingualism; Cultural difference; Intercultural couples; Language disorders; Otherness; Transcultural psychiatry.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cultural Diversity*
  • Family Relations*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Italy
  • Language
  • Language Disorders / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multilingualism*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research