Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California

Population and Development Review, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 447-460, September 2006

14 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2012

See all articles by Rubén G. Rumbaut

Rubén G. Rumbaut

University of California, Irvine - Department of Sociology

Douglas S. Massey

Princeton University - Department of Sociology

Frank Bean

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 2006

Abstract

We draw on newly available data from two surveys — the Immigration and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) survey, and the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS) in San Diego — to test the assertion that Spanish is unlikely to go the way of other immigrant languages in the United States and succumb to English language dominance across the generations. Southern California offers an ideal critical test of this hypothesis because it is the nation’s largest Spanish-speaking enclave and houses its largest concentration of immigrants. We defined linguistic survival in two ways: a preference for speaking a mother tongue within the household and the ability to speak that language very well. We then computed survival curves in half-generation increments and applied life table methods to derive linguistic life expectancies — the average number of generations a mother tongue can be expected to survive in the United States after the arrival of an immigrant. Although the life expectancy of Spanish may be slightly greater among Mexicans in Southern California compared to other groups, its ultimate demise nonetheless seems assured by the third generation. English has never been seriously threatened as the dominant language of the United States, and it is not threatened today — not even in Southern California. What is endangered instead is the survivability of the non-English languages that immigrants bring with them to the United States.

Suggested Citation

Rumbaut, Rubén G. and Massey, Douglas S. and Bean, Frank, Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California (2006). Population and Development Review, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 447-460, September 2006, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2024586

Rubén G. Rumbaut (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine - Department of Sociology ( email )

3151 Social Sciences Plaza A
Irvine, CA 92697-5100
United States

Douglas S. Massey

Princeton University - Department of Sociology ( email )

Princeton, NJ
United States

Frank Bean

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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