E Pluribus Unum: Bilingualism and Language Loss in the Second Generation
Levy Economics Institute Working Paper No. 229
48 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 1998
Date Written: March 1998
We examine patterns of language adaptation in a sample of over 5,000 second generation students in South Florida and Southern California. Knowledge of English is near universal, and preference for that language is dominant among most immigrant nationalities. On the other hand, only a minority remain fluent in the parental languages, and there are wide variations among immigrant groups in the extent of their parental linguistic retention. These variations are important for theory and policy because they affect the speed of acculturation and the extent to which sizable pools of fluent bilinguals will be created by today's second generation. We employ multivariate and multi-level analyses to identify the principal factors accounting for variation in foreign language maintenance and bilingualism. While a number of variables emerge as significant predictors, they do not account for differences across immigrant nationalities which become even more sharply delineated. A clear disjuncture exists between children of Asian and Hispanic backgrounds whose parental language maintenance and bilingual fluency vary significantly. Reasons for this divergence are explored, and their policy implications are discussed.
JEL Classification: J11
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation