Study debunks myth that early immigrants quickly learned English

Wayne E. Wright wayneewright at
Wed Oct 29 03:41:26 UTC 2008

Thank You!

Sent from my iPod

On Oct 28, 2008, at 7:03 AM, "Slavomír Čéplö" <bulbulthegreat at> wrote:

American Speech, Volume 83, Number 3, p. 259-286: "'Good OldImmigrants of Yesteryear', Who Didn't Learn English".Link to the PDF:
On Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 12:43 PM, Wayne E. Wright<wayneewright at> wrote:> Does anyone know where this research has been published?> -Wayne>> Sent from my iPod> On Oct 25, 2008, at 3:54 PM, "Harold Schiffman" <haroldfs at> wrote:>> Forwarded From: LINGANTH at>>> --------------------------->> Study debunks myth that early immigrants quickly learned English>>>> The Capital Times  —  10/18/2008 3:37 pm>> Joseph Salmons has always been struck by a frequent argument in> letters to the editor, national debates and in just plain old> conversations:>> "My great, great grandparents came to America and quickly learned> English to survive. Why can't today's immigrants do the same?">> With "English-only" movements cropping up and debate growing about how> quickly new Spanish-speaking immigrants should learn English, the> University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of German decided the
 issue> was important e!
nough to look more deeply into the past.>> Salmons and recent UW-Madison German Ph.D. graduate Miranda Wilkerson> delved into census data, newspapers, books, court records and other> materials to help document the linguistic experience of German> immigrants in Wisconsin from 1839 to the 1930s. Their paper appears in> the current issue of the journal American Speech.>> Focusing on German immigrants was a logical choice, Salmons said,> since they represented the biggest immigration wave to Wisconsin in> the mid-1800s, "and they really fit this classic view of the 'good old> immigrants' of the 19th century.">> What Salmons and Wilkerson found was a remarkable reversal of> conventional wisdom: Not only did many early immigrants not feel> compelled out of practicality to learn English quickly upon arriving> in America, they appeared to live and thrive for decades while> speaking exclusively German.>> In many of the original German settlements in the mid-1800s
 from> southeastern !
Wisconsin to Lake Winnebago and the Fox Valley, the> researchers found
that German remained the primary language of> commerce, education and religion well into the early 20th century.> Some second- and even third-generation German immigrants who were born> in Wisconsin still spoke only German as adults.>> "These folks were committed Americans," said Salmons. "They> participated in politics, in the economy, and were leaders in their> churches and their schools. They just happened not to conduct much of> their life in English.">> One of the richest sources for the study came from the 1910 U.S.> Census, which is digitized and available through the Wisconsin> Historical Society. Wilkerson analyzed self-reports on the languages> adults spoke in areas of heavy German settlement, which included nine> townships in seven counties in southeastern and central Wisconsin.>> Examples include Hustisford in Dodge County; Hamburg in Marathon> County; Kiel in Manitowoc County; Germantown in Washington County; and> Belgium in Ozaukee
 County.>> The researchers fo!
und that in 1910, there were still robust> populations of German-only speakers in those communities. The census> identified 24 percent German-only speakers in Hustisford, 22 percent> in Schleswig (Manitowoc County), 21 percent in Hamburg and 18 percent> in Kiel.>> These numbers did not only represent first-generation immigrants, but> included many born in the United States. Of the self-reported> German-only speakers in the census, 43 percent from Germantown were> born in the United States, followed by 36 percent in Schleswig, 35> percent in Hustisford and 34 percent in Brothertown (Calumet County).>> "What this means for the learning (or non-learning) of English here is> telling: after 50 or more years of living in the United States, many> speakers in some communities remained monolingual," the authors wrote.> "This finding provides striking counterevidence to the claim that> early immigrants learned English quickly.">> Salmons pointed to other
 straightforward evidence of h!
ow viable the> German language remained in Wisconsin. Through state hi
story, there> were more than 500 German-language newspapers published in Wisconsin.> Those small-town papers often consolidated into larger-circulation> papers in the 20th century and remained commercially available into> the 1940s.>> They also found, surprisingly, that people in contact with the Germans> learned to speak German as well. In Ozaukee County, for instance,> there was evidence that Irish families who lived scattered among> Germans could speak German.>> Another finding was that German-only speakers found work as teachers,> clergymen, merchants, blacksmiths, tailors and surveyors, in addition> to farmers and laborers.>> "The key issue seemed to be whether they had a big enough> German-speaking community, where they had a critical mass for people> to be comfortable being monolingual," Salmons said. "There was no huge> pressure to change in those communities.">> According to Salmons, the study suggests that conventional wisdom may> actually have
 it backwards -- whil!
e early immigrants didn't> necessarily need English to succeed and responded slowly, modern> immigrants recognize it as a ticket to success and are learning> English in faster than was done in the olden days.> =+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+>> Harold F. Schiffman>> Professor Emeritus of> Dravidian Linguistics and Culture> Dept. of South Asia Studies> University of Pennsylvania> Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305>> Phone:  (215) 898-7475> Fax:  (215) 573-2138>> Email:  haroldfs at>>> ------------------------------------------------->

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list