See No Spanish: Language, Local Context, and Attitudes Toward Immigration

56 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2009 Last revised: 31 Mar 2011

See all articles by Daniel J. Hopkins

Daniel J. Hopkins

University of Pennsylvania

Van C. Tran

Harvard University

Abigail Fisher Williamson

Trinity College; Harvard University

Date Written: March 30, 2011

Abstract

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

Hopkins, Daniel J. and Tran, Van C. and Williamson, Abigail, See No Spanish: Language, Local Context, and Attitudes Toward Immigration (March 30, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1508533 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1508533

Daniel J. Hopkins (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Stiteler Hall
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.danhopkins.org

Van C. Tran

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Abigail Williamson

Trinity College ( email )

300 Summit Street
Hartford, CT 06106
United States
6177505621 (Phone)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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