Linguistic Distance: A Quantitative Measure of the Distance between English and Other Languages

20 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2004

See all articles by Barry R. Chiswick

Barry R. Chiswick

University of Illinois at Chicago; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Paul W. Miller

Curtin University of Technology - School of Economics and Finance; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Curtin University - Centre for Research in Applied Economics

Date Written: August 2004

Abstract

This paper develops a scalar or quantitative measure of the "distance" between English and a myriad of other (non-native American) languages. This measure is based on the difficulty Americans have learning other languages. The linguistic distance measure is then used in an analysis of the determinants of English language proficiency among adult immigrants in the United States and Canada. It is shown that, when other determinants of English language proficiency are the same, the greater the measure of linguistic distance, the poorer is the respondent's English language proficiency. This measure can be used in research, evaluation and practitioner analyses, and for diagnostic purposes regarding linguistic minorities in English-speaking countries. The methodology can also be applied to develop linguistic distance measures for other languages.

Keywords: immigrants, language proficiency, linguistic distance

JEL Classification: I29, J15, J24

Suggested Citation

Chiswick, Barry R. and Miller, Paul W., Linguistic Distance: A Quantitative Measure of the Distance between English and Other Languages (August 2004). IZA Discussion Paper No. 1246. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=575090

Barry R. Chiswick (Contact Author)

University of Illinois at Chicago ( email )

601 S. Morgan Street, Room 2103UH
Chicago, IL 60607-7121
United States
312-996-2683 (Phone)
312-996-3344 (Fax)

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Paul W. Miller

Curtin University of Technology - School of Economics and Finance ( email )

GPO Box U1987
Perth WA 6845
Australia

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Curtin University - Centre for Research in Applied Economics ( email )

GPO Box U1987
Perth, Western Australia 6845
Australia

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