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UAlbany’s Mumford Center Finds Bilingualism Persists, But English Dominates
Study finds rapid acceptance of English by children and grandchildren of immigrants

Contact: Michael Parker(518) 437-4980

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 10, 2004) -- English is still the overwhelming language of choice for children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants, according to a new report from the University at Albany’s Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research. Using 2000 Census data, the Mumford Center undertook an analysis of the languages spoken at home by school-age children in newcomer families, finding that English is almost universally accepted by the children and grandchildren of the immigrants who have come to the U.S. in great numbers since the 1960s. While bilingual minorities in Spanish-speaking families are larger than was the case among most European immigrant groups, English monolingualism is the predominant pattern by the third generation.

“Because of renewed immigration, fears about the status of English as the linguistic glue holding America together are common today,” said Mumford Center director and Distinguished Professor of Sociology Richard Alba. “In a different vein, multiculturalists have expressed hopes of profound change to American culture brought on by the persistence across generations of the mother tongues of contemporary immigrants. In either case, the underlying claim is that the past pattern of rapid acceptance of English by the children and grandchildren of immigrants may be breaking down. We find that, although some changes have occurred, this claim is greatly exaggerated.”

Some of the study’s specific findings are:

  • Bilingualism is common among second-generation children, i.e., those growing up in immigrant households: most speak an immigrant language at home, but almost all are proficient in English. Among Hispanics, 92 percent speak English well or very well, even though 85 percent speak at least some Spanish at home. The equivalent percentages among Asian groups are: 96 percent are proficient in English and 61 percent speak an Asian mother tongue.

  • In the third (and later) generation, the predominant pattern is English monolingualism: that is, children speak only English at home, making it highly unlikely that they will be bilingual as adults. Among Asians, the percentage who speak only English is 92 percent. It is lower among Hispanics, but still a clear majority: 72 percent.

  • The very high immigration level of the 1990s does not appear to have weakened the forces of linguistic assimilation. Mexicans, by far the largest immigrant group, provide a compelling example. In 1990, 64 percent of third-generation Mexican-American children spoke only English at home; in 2000, the equivalent figure had risen to 71 percent.

  • Much third-generation bilingualism is found in border communities, such as Brownsville, Texas, where the maintenance of Spanish has deep historical roots and is affected by proximity to Mexico. Away from the border, Mexican-American children of the third generation are unlikely to be bilingual.

  • Dominicans are the one major exception to the general pattern of English predominance in the third generation. They are split roughly half and half in this generation between children who are bilingual at home and children who speak only English. Their distinctiveness is likely to be rooted in their high level of back-and-forth travel to their homeland.

Recognized as one of the great urbanists of the 20th century, Lewis Mumford endorsed the creation of the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research in 1988. Under the leadership of Director Richard Alba, the Center examines the impact of global changes on the U.S. metropolis and civil society. Visit the Mumford Center at http://www.albany.edu/mumford.

 


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