See No Spanish: Language, Local Context, and Attitudes Toward Immigration
56 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2009 Last revised: 31 Mar 2011
Date Written: March 30, 2011
Certain explanations of Americans’ immigration attitudes emphasize threats to national identity and culture. But we do not know the speciﬁc sources of cultural threat, and we do not know whether it operates locally. In case studies of new immigrant destinations, native-born residents commonly voice concerns about the prevalence of Spanish, suggesting that foreign languages might be one such source of threat. This paper uses survey experiments to provide the ﬁrst causal test of the impact of written Spanish on Americans’ immigration attitudes. One experiment was conducted online with a nationally representative sample while a second was embedded in an exit poll. The experiments show that Spanish has differential impacts depending on Americans’ prior contact with it. Among those who hear Spanish frequently in day-to-day life, seeing written Spanish induces anti-immigration attitudes. These ﬁndings suggest that language can foster cultural threat, and they highlight a mechanism through which local encounters can be threatening.
Keywords: immigration, language, implicit cues, new immigrant destinations, attitudes on immigration
JEL Classification: C90, F22, J7, J10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation