More discussion on Linguist-List

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Apr 2 15:14:17 UTC 2002


LINGUIST List 13.898

                                Mon Apr 1 2002

                 Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity

Message 1: Re: 13.881, Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity

Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 22:40:59 -0700 (MST)
From: Dan Villa <dvilla at crl.NMSU.Edu>

In following this discussion, I would like to observe that, in looking at
the loss of Spanish in the United States, there is little doubt that
economic factors play a significant part in shift. We conducted a study in
our community, directly adjacent to Mexico, with all the advantages of
international ports, the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)
accord, etc., and found that in this area there is no significant salary
gain in being able to speak Spanish. If one speaks Spanish, employers are
happy to hire that individual, but are not willing to pay a premium for
that skill, even though it might be to the employers' benefit. It would
appear that such factors influence language loss. At the same time,
speakers of U.S. Spanish form the largest single largest Spanish speaking
market for U.S. goods and services in the Spanish speaking world, about
triple that of all other Spanish speaking countries (see Villa 2000).
There is a definite economic advantage to catering to the U.S. Spanish
speaking populace. We witness a huge state of flux; I would not predict
the demise of Spanish, especially the 'norma popular', or 'low' Spanish,
as defined by some. U.S. Census data shows that these varieties of Spanish
are growing throughout the U.S. Economic factors will guarantee the growth
of these 'non-standard' varieties throughout the 21st century (unless we
wipe ourselves out through nuclear warfare, or some other nonsense). In
short, the (economic) hegemony of English is by no means firmly

Daniel Villa
New Mexico State U.


Villa, Daniel. 2000. "Languages Have Armies, and Economies, Too: The
Impact of U.S. Spanish in the Spanish-speaking world". Southwest Journal
of Linguistics 19. 143-154.

Message 2: 13.878, Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity

Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 02:17:31 -0500
From: Job M. van Zuijlen <zuijlen at>

In the discussion until now it has been assumed that (American) English
will be the "winning" language.  It is interesting in this regard that
some in the US assume that, in maybe 2020, Spanish will be the language
most spoken within the US.  That may be an exaggeration, truth is that
there are large Spanish speaking communities in which there is less
incentive or necessity to use English than there was/is for earlier and
other groups of immigrants.  In Arlington, Virginia, were I live, the
post office and stores in some neighborhoods have signs in English and
Spanish, and many services (lawyers, realtors, etc.) cater to a Spanish
speaking population.  There are people who are upset about such
developments and there are "English only" movements in the US who would
like to ban the use of other languages because they are worried about
the survival of English.  I would also like to point out that, although
English might become the only surviving SPOKEN language, there are and
will be, for those who appreciate language variety, a fairly large
number of signed languages.

Job M. van Zuijlen
Dutch native speaker (and proud of it)

Message 3: Disc: Economic Value of Language Diversity

Date: Mon, 01 Apr 2002 15:40:22 -0500
From: tam6 <tam6 at>

        I wanted to respond to a particular point from Geoffrey Sampson.

> Could Americans really see themselves telling their Red Indian
> populations, or we in Britain tell our Welsh-speaking or Gaelic-speaking
> compatriots, "You may be inclined to switch to English, but you mustn't
> -- you must keep up your ancestral tongue, and make your children keep
> it up and they must make their children keep it up, in case one day
> there's another world war where it could come in handy for security
> purposes"?

First of all switching languages is not an all or one proposition.  There
is such a thing as bilingualism, which should render this whole discussion
about economic value moot.  But beyond that, I know that the history of
language loss among the Comanche, whose language I work with (another
language with codetalkers by the way), was set in motion many years ago
and involved swift and severe punishments in school for anyone using the
language.  I submit that if this is what counts as economic competition
between languages, then it is predatory in nature, and bears no
resemblance to GS's hypothetical.

Todd McDaniels

Phd student, Linguistics
The University at Buffalo, SUNY
e-mail: tam6 at

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