Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Immigration no threat to English use in U.S.: study

On conservative talk radio, they express concern over the so-called "reconquista." It's not something I hear in my circles and I'm in Mexican American Studies! This rhetoric is clearly about boundary maintenance and stoking the fear of whites and others in order to promote reactionary policies. Studies like the one mentioned should help quell such concerns. -Angela

Wed Sep 13, 12:46 AM ET
U.S. citizens concerned that Latino immigrants will
have them singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in
Spanish can rest easy, according to an academic study
published on Wednesday.

A report in the Population and Development Review
found that far from threatening the dominance of
English, most Latin American immigrants to the United
States lose their ability to speak Spanish over the
course of a few generations.

The study by sociologists Frank Bean and Ruben Rumbaut
of the University of California, Irvine, and Douglas
Massey from Princeton, drew on two surveys
investigating adaptation by immigrant communities in
California and south Florida.

It concluded that by the third generation, most
descendants of immigrants are "linguistically dead" in
their mother tongue.

"Based on an analysis of language loss over the
generations, the study concludes that English has
never been seriously threatened as the dominant
language in America, nor is it under threat today,"
the researchers said.

"Although the generational life expectancy of Spanish
is greater among Mexicans in Southern California than
other groups, its demise is all but assured by the
third generation," it added.

Third-generation immigrants are American-born with
American-born parents, but with three or four
foreign-born grandparents.

The study, which also included some data from
immigrant groups from Asian countries, weighs into a
polarizing debate in the United States on the
desirability, or otherwise, of linguistic assimilation
for immigrant minorities.

Differences flared earlier this year when a group of
Latino and Caribbean artists recorded a version of the
"The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, prompting
condemnation from some public figures including
President George W. Bush.

"The national anthem ought to be sung in English,"
Bush said of the version, dubbed "Nuestro Himno" by
the artists. "And I think people who want to be
citizens of this country ought to learn it in


  1. Angela,

    That study's been discredited pretty through and through. Others have been posting about this on other fora so i won't go overly into detail here, but the study's fatal flaw is that it attempts to take one sample (the current 3rd-generation latino group) and use that to extrapolate to the behavior of the 3rd generation, say, 25 years from now.

    What the study by Massey, Rumbaut and Bean patently fails to do, is to ask whether the considerations in place 25 years ago in encouraging or discouraging language retention, are still present today. 25 years ago, Latino families almost anywhere in the US by and large, wanted their kids and grandkids not to speak Spanish. Supposedly, they'd be more "American" this way with more advantages in economic and social interaction. This was especially true in Southern California which, back in the 1970s and 1980s, was if anything one of the most Anglo portions of the country which produced solid, Anglo conservative governors like Ronald Reagan and George Deukmejian. I remember how it was-- the whole idea of preserving Spanish, at the time, seemed quaint and even foolish, so understandably Latinos in So Cal didn't retain it well.

    Today in 2006, the cultural milieu is completely different. Today, there are massive incentives to retain Spanish permanently, not lose it like before. The best jobs in SoCal go to those who are fluent in Spanish and can write it as well as read it, so much so that even non-Latino people are clamoring to learn Spanish themselves, while 3rd and 4th-generation Latinos who lost it before, are picking it back up again.

    I've also encountered hundreds of Latino families in retail-- not a single one plans on forgoing Spanish anymore, the strong emphasis now is on retaining it and promoting formal and public bilingualism. Not passing on Spanish today is like stabbing oneself in the belly, a self-inflicted wound, and it heavily damages one's future job prospects-- that's the new reality that even Anglos know.

    There's also the sheer Latino demographic presence, the prevalence of Spanish media in print as well as on TV and radio-- SoCal used to have very few Spanish stations, now the region is dominated by them-- and the integral use of Spanish in public places and for public services, which further makes it a prestige language. In the SW there's a long tradition of laws and treaties since the Mexican War that protects Spanish for using in public, similar in Fla., so this isn't entirely new-- Spanish is a founder language supposed to be used in those regions in any case. But there's never been this amount of institutional imprinting of Spanish before, and it's accelerating every year. You can even watch almost any DVD movie these days entirely in Spanish.

    Frankly, this resurgence and further potency of Spanish isn't even a modest threat to English either, and I find it odd and more than a little irritating that some people, otherwise supportive of Latinos, try to defend Latinos by claiming something like, "Oh, don't worry, we're no threat because we're forgetting Spanish and committing cultural suicide anyway." That's stupid-- retaining Spanish and being American aren't mutually exclusive. Most Latinos I know are proud of their country and disproportionately volunteer for military and civic service, yet vigorously promote the use of Spanish. These objectives are definitely compatible.

  2. Ralph,

    I agree. Neither should we go so far to the other end and say that Latinos either are or should be relinquishing their Spanish. This defies reality in any case.