Trond Trosterud trond.trosterud at
Tue Nov 2 07:18:07 UTC 2004

Kevin, Harold, others:

Thanks for interesting points of view, and (to me) new insights. One

> Actually, at least in the U.S., I believe that immigrants are learning
> English as fast or faster now than in the past.

My initial claim was actually not that they learned English (more
generally: the dominant lg of the society they arrived in) faster in
former times than today, but that today, it is possible to keep up
contacts with the old homeland, and thereby (potentially) keep up
bilingualism (for my own kids, satellite TV, several shelf meters of
videos, and annual holidays in Finland keep up their Finnish here in
Norway, these are means that were not available to earlier
generations). The dominant language is learned as fast today as before.

Kevin's remark that the linguistic demands have changed over time, from
oral skills dealing with manual labour, to both oral and written
skills, and a higher level of abstraction at work, with its linguistic
consequences, is important. Many jobs still do not require writing
skills and an abstract vocabulary, of course, but then, the civil
society, with its income tax schemes, its home computer manuals, etc.,

>   In fact, what is potentially of greater concern is the rate of
> language loss (loss of the non-English primary language) of many
> children and youth often within just one generation (their parents are
> bilingual, but the children are monolingual English speakers).

But do you know for a fact that this rate is larger than before
(ignoring immigrants that formed large, isolated L1 communities in
their new homeland)? I certainly do not.

Here in Europe, I see two additional factors contributing to prolonged
L1 maintenance, in addition to homeland contact: the degree of literacy
and lg awareness in the old homeland, and the tolerance towards
bilingualism in the new country. Again comparing Finnish emigrants now
and before, I see a larger linguistic proudness and awareness among
emigrants from the period after Finnish was established as an official
language in Finland, than before (when the country was ruled in
Swedish). In a parallel fashion, when people come from countries that
in practice ignore their mother tongue, they will have no ideological
support for maintaining it, no motivation to read news from back home
(there being no written news in the lg in question), etc. Also, here in
Norway, the last 30 years have seen far more tolerance towards use of
Norwegian dialects in speech, as opposed to standard Norwegian Bokmål,
this tolerance has also been positive for immigrants, who (to a limited
extent) have received L1 instruction in schools in addition to courses
in Norwegian. I  do not believe that this will lead to an eternal state
of bilingualism, but i believe it will prolong the shift for at least
one generation (and again, no statistics offered).

Stable bilingualism over millennia is something else, it certainly
exists, but not in immigrant communities.


Trond Trosterud                                        t +47 7764 4763
Institutt for språkvitskap, Det humanistiske fakultet  m +47 950 70140
N-9037 Universitetet i Tromsø, Noreg                   f +47 7764 4239
Trond.Trosterud (a)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list