[lg policy] Like shooting feet in a barrel

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 11 17:03:26 UTC 2009

Like shooting feet in a barrel

September 5, 2009 @ 2:01 pm · Filed by Eric Baković under Language and
the media, Language attitudes, Language policy

So Roy Ortega thinks that the Spanish-language media in the U.S. have
an obligation to become "more proactive in encouraging [their]
audience to seek full fluency in the English language". (Immediate
side note: why do people seem to tend to write "the English language"
instead of just "English" when making pronouncements like this?)

But let's not get Ortega wrong here. "By no means [is he] a rabid
advocate of the English Only or English First movements. [He]
certainly [doesn't] support declaring English as the country's
official language and [he is] not calling on anyone to forsake their
fist [sic] language." He's simply observing that "English is the
dominant language of the U.S. and should be spoken by all of its
citizens", that "[w]ithout adequate English-speaking skills, few can
expect to achieve the highest levels of success in U.S. society", that
"far too many adult immigrants and legal foreign residents living in
the U.S. have failed to master the English language despite some
having lived in this country for decades", and that "[m]any simply
don't recognize fluency in English as an important part of their
personal development".

The contradiction is outstanding — unless you take Ortega to mean that
he is, in fact, an advocate of the English Only and English First
movements (just not a "rabid" one) and that he supports English as the
official language of the U.S. (he just doesn't support "declaring"
this).  And please don't buy the
I'm-only-saying-this-for-their-own-good platitude that Ortega is
selling here. Actual research on the topic of English language
adoption among immigrant populations in the U.S. has repeatedly found
what Calvin Veltman is often credited with finding in an article
entitled "Modelling the Language Shift Process of Hispanic Immigrants"
(International Migration Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 545-562;
published by The Center for Migration Studies of New York, Inc.,
1988). Here's the article's abstract; you can read a more detailed
abstract via PubMed here.

This article provides a longitudinal interpretation of the 1976 Survey
of Income and Education data on the linguistic integration of Hispanic
immigrants to the United States. The assumptions required to sustain
such an analysis are examined, followed by the presentation of data
suggesting that age at time of arrival and length of residence in the
U.S. largely explain observed patterns of language shift. The analysis
shows that movement to English is extremely rapid, occurring within
fifteen years of arrival in the U.S. Further, most of the younger
immigrants make English their preferred personal language.

The body of research that has been produced on this topic consistently
finds rapid language shift across generations, from monolingual
Spanish (or whatever the non-English immigrant language may be) in the
first generation, to some level of bilingualism in the second
generation, to monolingual English in the third generation — a
remarkably stable observation generally referred to as the
"three-generation rule", and if anything, the trend has been for this
shift to speed up towards becoming a "two-generation rule". Ortega is
thus not completely off-base in saying (in more provocative words)
that many adult immigrants do not learn English, either because they
don't feel the need to or for some other reason; these are just
overwhelmingly likely to be first-generation immigrants whose children
and grandchildren are speaking more and more English, at the expense
of Spanish — an unfortunate breakdown in intergenerational
communication that the Spanish-language media could arguably be
helping with by encouraging bilingualism rather than language shift,
as Ortega would have it.


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