Monday, September 25, 2023

Language attrition and immigrant assimilation: two sides of the story

A touchpoint experience for many first-generation immigrants is learning English. A touchpoint for the second-generation and later children of immigrant families is the struggle to retain their heritage language. Two recent articles and a Pew Poll (covered by Immprof blogger KJ) speak to the phenomenon of language attrition, or language loss in later generations of immigration: one related to Spanish-speakers and the other to Chinese-speakers (especially non-Mandarin speakers, like the Cantonese speaker in the story).

  • Some Latinos in US Shamed When They cannot Speak Spanish, USA Today (September 20, 2023) 
  • The Parents Trying to Pass Down a Language They Hardly Know, The Atlantic (September 25, 2023) 

These stories are told against a backdrop of playground teasing and grown-up nativism toward immigrants for not learning the English language or not learning it quickly (as Samuel Huntington famously set forth more than a decade ago).

Empirical data on immigrant assimilation and language from a report on Immigrant Assimilation in the US by the National Academy of Sciences shows that language acquisition and loss show itself in the third-generation, squaring the circle of the first-person narratives and Samuel Huntington's complaint against the immigrant and second-generation. The Pew Poll is here.


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