Thursday, September 21, 2006

NAT: Fading Languages

Native languages fade as immigrant generations pass
English is the dominant language after three generations have lived in the U.S.
THELMA GUERRERO, Statesman Journal, September 20, 2006

McKay High School sophomore Monique Guajardo, two generations removed
from her family's arrival from Mexico, has a difficult time speaking
Spanish.

Fifteen-year-old Whitney Pe'a, on the other hand, can't speak a word of
Spanish. Her ancestors immigrated three generations ago.

According to a recent study, their difficulty with their native language
is part of a national trend. Spanish dies out within three generations,
and English becomes the dominant language.

The study, conducted by the University of California at Irvine and
Princeton University, found that native language-expertise tends to
disappear among descendants of Hispanic immigrants at a rate similar to
that of other immigrant groups, such as Asians.

The findings were published in the September issue of the journal
"Population and Development Review."

Third-generation descendants of immigrants such as Pe'a are U.S.-born
with U.S.-born parents and three or four foreign-born grandparents.

"My dad's side of the family speaks Spanish, but we don't speak it,"
said Pe'a, a sophomore at McKay High School.

In terms of daily use, the study concluded that Spanish begins to falter
in the second generation of Mexican and other Latin American immigrants,
such as Guajardo.

"I can have a conversation in Spanish, but I kinda mess up here and
there," said Guajardo, 15.

Some educators lament the loss of Spanish-speaking abilities.

"It affects (a) person's appreciation, if not understanding, of their
culture," Nathaniel Cordova, an associate professor of Latin American
studies and American ethnic studies at Willamette University.

It also can result "in embarrassment for those who don't understand the
language or who are not able to understand what others are saying,"
Cordova said.

For their 10-year study, the researchers focused on language adaptation
among Hispanic immigrants and their descendants in California and south
Florida.

"Based on analysis of language loss over the generations, English has
never been seriously threatened as the dominant language in America,
nor is it under threat today," the report said.

The conclusion refutes the threat to U.S. culture alleged by author
Samuel Huntington, who says that Hispanic immigrants endanger the core
of U.S. culture because they "speak a common language, divide the
United States into two peoples, two cultures and two languages."

At Oregon Literacy, however, there is a large-scale demand by adult
immigrants for English-as-a-second-language classes, said Elizabeth
Raymond, the group's executive director.

"Right now, we have people on a waiting list," she said. "We're starting
six or seven new ESL programs in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties."

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