Jake on September 25, 2011:
“I’m curious to know though if you think it’s possible to become completely illiterate in a language by letting your frequency drop down to 0 for an extended period of time. Personally, I don’t think you can ever forget all of what you learned, but rather just become “rusty” or “stale.” I think that if it is possible to forget a language that you were fluent in, it would take a longer time than any human lives, but that’s just what I think.”
Critical Frequency: A Brand New Way of Looking At Language Exposure | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time
I’m not an expert on this by any means, but literacy is a skill, and I have read about cases of people who only read in school, as part of their schooling, and essentially did not read at all outside of school. One case in particular was that of a low-SES American woman, a native user of English, born and raised in the US.
She lived in New York(?), and worked as a housekeeper or something. IIRC, she was from somewhere rural and went to school until about the fourth grade. Decades later, while not completely illiterate, she had dipped below functional level.
So, whether or not one can forget completely within a lifetime is irrelevant; the point is that (in very “normal”, human time) one can forget so much as to become sub-functional — to become functionally illiterate. It’s sorta like dehydration — it’s not that there’s no water left in the body, it’s just that there’s so little that it can’t run.
Again, I’m not an expert on memory, linguistics, literacy or dehydration, so…take everything I say with so much salt that it hurts 😀 .