Spanish use by Hispanics dies out quickly, study finds

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Sep 14 12:35:04 UTC 2006

>>From the Philadelphia Enquirer, Posted on Thu, Sep. 14, 2006

Spanish use by Hispanics dies out quickly, study finds
A paper cowritten by a professor at Princeton defies popular notions.

By Chris Newmarker
Associated Press

TRENTON - A few generations after families move to the United States from
Latin American countries, fluency in Spanish dies out and English becomes
the dominant language, according to a new paper published by sociology
professors from New Jersey and California. The paper counters popular
arguments that the size of Latino immigration to the United States could
create a bilingual society and a fundamental change in American culture.
Such sentiments have played a role in debates over U.S. immigration law
and touched off a controversy this year over a Spanish-language version of
"The Star-Spangled Banner."

The paper, written by Douglas Massey at Princeton University and Ruben
Rumbaut and Frank Bean at the University of California-Irvine, found
Spanish giving way to English among Southern California's heavily Hispanic
population. The study suggests that Mexican immigrants arriving in
Southern California today can expect only five of every 100 of their
great-grandchildren to speak fluent Spanish. "Even in the nation's largest
Spanish-speaking enclave, within a border region that historically
belonged to Mexico, Spanish appears to be well on the way to a natural
death by the third generation of U.S. residence," the researchers said in
the paper, published in the September issue of the journal Population and
Development Review.

The authors use survey data to show that Hispanics with each successive
generation are becoming English speakers, just as in previous immigration
waves in U.S. history. The paper draws on two studies, one conducted in
2004 and the other from 2001 to 2003, to assemble a sample of 5,703
Southern California residents. Among the group, 1,642 had Mexican roots
and a total of 2,262 had Latin American ancestry. Survival of Spanish
among the descendants of Mexican and Central American immigrants was
higher than among other groups, but still followed the usual pattern of
English taking over as the years passed. Among Mexican Americans with two
U.S.-born parents but three or more foreign-born grandparents, only 17
percent spoke fluent Spanish. Among those with only one or two
foreign-born grandparents, Spanish fluency dropped to 7 percent. Only 5
percent of Mexican Americans with U.S.-born parents and U.S.-born
grandparents spoke Spanish fluently.

Among the third generation of Mexican Americans, 96 percent prefer to
speak English in their homes. "Historical and contemporary evidence
indicates that English has never been seriously threatened as the dominant
language of the United States,"  the authors of the paper wrote. "What is
endangered instead is the survival of the non-English languages that
immigrants bring with them to the United States."


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