Reuters, September 13, 2006
Phoenix — U.S. citizens concerned that Latino immigrants will have them singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Spanish can rest easy, according to an academic study published on Wednesday.
A report in the Population and Development Review found that far from threatening the dominance of English, most Latin American immigrants to the United States lose their ability to speak Spanish over the course of a few generations.
The study by sociologists Frank Bean and Ruben Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine, and Douglas Massey from Princeton, drew on two surveys investigating adaptation by immigrant communities in California and south Florida.
It concluded that by the third generation, most descendants of immigrants are “linguistically dead” in their mother tongue.
“Based on an analysis of language loss over the generations, the study concludes that English has never been seriously threatened as the dominant language in America, nor is it under threat today,” the researchers said.
“Although the generational life expectancy of Spanish is greater among Mexicans in Southern California than other groups, its demise is all but assured by the third generation,” it added.
Third-generation immigrants are American-born with American-born parents, but with three or four foreign-born grandparents.
The study, which also included some data from immigrant groups from Asian countries, weighs into a polarizing debate in the United States on the desirability, or otherwise, of linguistic assimilation for immigrant minorities.