On bilingualism and the language of the unconscious

In psychoanalysis, as the talking cure, language asserts itself pre-eminently as the mode of treatment. Formations of the unconscious, like symptoms, dreams and slips of the tongue, can be interpreted on the basis of their underlying linguistic structure. Bilingual analysands, however, possess more than one language code by means of which they can put such manifestations of the unconscious into words.. This raises the question of how the ‘language of the unconscious’ finds its expression through the discourse of the bilingual subject. Starting with Freud’s conceptualisation of the psyche based on word- and thing-representations, the author examines the status of the mother tongue and a second, later-learned language in the bilingual analysand‘s communication, on the basis of the following questions: (i) Are there any differences in transference, depending on the language in which the analysand expresses himself?; (ii) To what extent are the mother tongue and a language learned later in life interrelated and what does this tell us about verbal processes like repression?; (iii) What value should be attached to the initial choice of language and the language switch, if any, in relation to the process of transference?; and (iv) What conclusions can be drawn with regard to the required language competency of the psychoanalyst conducting an analysis in more than one language?