Remembering Einar and Eva Haugen

Einar and Eva Haugen.

Photo courtesy of Camilla Cai.
Einar and Eva Haugen.

François Grosjean
Neuchatel, Switzerland

My life as a bilingual—and researcher on bilingualism—would not have been the same had I not met, and become friends with, Einar and Eva Haugen.

When I was preparing my master’s thesis at the University of Paris, I came across a book with a specialized title, The Norwegian Language in America, but an appealing subtitle, A Study in Bilingual Behavior. I quickly became enthralled by its scientific content but also by its very human touch. Clearly the author, Einar Haugen, a Harvard professor and a bilingual himself, had analyzed bilingualism in both its academic and its human perspectives. His book would become a classic.

Having moved to the U.S. while preparing my first book on bilingualism, I phoned him and asked if I could come and see him. I expected him to give me an appointment in his university office but he very kindly asked me over to his home.

I was greeted by a rather tall, very genteel, elderly man who showed me into his living room. As he was getting me a drink, Eva Haugen came in and introduced herself. She looked like a dream grandmother with very fine features, her grey hair in a bun, a soft voice, and a wonderful smile.

The first part of our meeting was more academic—I told Einar about my manuscript and we discussed topics in bilingualism such as language planning, language choice, code-switching, and so on. After about an hour, Eva joined us. Little by little, I realized that she too had had an impressive career as an author, editor, and translator of several books related to Norwegian-American subjects.

The Haugens were clearly comfortable in their lives as bilinguals and biculturals and in their love of both America and Norway. They were ideal examples of bilingualism and biculturalism as it can be lived, as well as very fine scholars in their respective fields.

My first visit was followed by many others, and each time I came away feeling more confident in the work I was doing and more serene as a bilingual and bicultural person myself. These visits had a very real impact on my career and on my life.

When I returned to Europe after some 12 years in the U.S., I stayed in touch with the Haugens and visited them every time I came back. In 1994, when I heard that Einar Haugen had passed away, I wrote to Eva and promised I would come see her. The following summer I gave her a call. There was no answer, so I drove to her home but found no one there. I went to the neighbors, who told me that she had broken her hip. She was now recuperating in a nursing home nearby.

I visited her the next day, and despite her health problems I found her as lovely and as warm as usual. We talked about many things and she mentioned her move to the Midwest a few days later where she would live with one of her daughters. I suddenly had an idea: “Do you want to go and see your house before leaving?” She first declined, but then changed her mind and said with a smile, “Oh, I would love to see my home again.”

When we reached her home, she looked at it for a long while and then said that she would like to see the yard. We walked around it slowly, Eva holding on to my arm, and she commented on her favorite trees and plants. When I had helped her back into the car, I asked her to wait just a bit. I went to the side garden and carefully cut off a rose that had been climbing up the wall of her house. I brought it back to her and said: “To accompany you on your trip, Eva.” She thanked me with one of her wonderful smiles.

Eva left for her daughter’s home a few days later and I flew back to Europe. She passed away just three months later.

“The Rose” first ran on Grosjean’s blog, Life as a bilingual, hosted by Psychology Today.

François Grosjean, PhD, is an emeritus professor of psycholinguistics at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, and the author of Bilingual: Life and Reality, among other books. In 2016 he delivered the Haugen Lecture at the University of Oslo.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.