By Jia Pu——the third post
A couple of days ago, I happened to watch a video on YouTube, which inspired me to say something about immigrants and their choice of languages. The video is actually a pretty short interview of several second generation immigrants, whose parents speak broken English and suffered all kinds of difficulties due to their low proficiency. The link of this video is attached in the reference section so that anyone interested can have a look. It is touching and it reminds me of the language maintenance in immigrant families.
In fact, the issue of language maintenance has always been discussed and analyzed in sociolinguistic research. First generation immigrants, especially those who do not receive proper education, are usually slow when it comes to learning. Besides, many of them are busy surviving on arrival, which leaves them no time to acquire a new language. Also, most immigrants tend to live in a community consisting of people from the same country as they do, where they communicate with each other in their mother tongue and regard this language as part of their culture as well as identity. Owing to all these factors, first generation immigrants depend heavily on their heritage language. In comparison, the second generation speak the language of the new country most of the time because they have been exposed to the language and culture of the new country since they were born. Additionally, acquiring the language seems to be a necessity if they want to integrate into society. While their heritage language just acts as a medium for them to communicate with their parents or people in the same community. And that’s why “most immigrant families shift to the language(s) of their new country over two to four generations”. The shift is gradual but it seems inevitable.
So considering this situation, should immigrants maintain their mother tongue? How do immigrant families make decisions about that? A discussion from an article (Velázquez, 2013), provides an interesting perspective. The research focuses on the relation between mother’s social network and family language maintenance because previous studies have highlighted the role mothers play in intergenerational language transmission. Participants are five MexAm families from three US communities and belong to different social classes. “All are two-parent households with at least one child under 18 living at home. Parents are native speakers of Mexican or MexAm Spanish and interact exclusively or predominately in Spanish” (p. 190). Results suggest that families where children have a better command of Spanish are those in which the mother considers this language crucial for both their children’s identity and their future economic opportunities. Another factor that influence mother’s decision is the density of their networks with competent speakers of Spanish. Therefore, “the major challenge for maintenance will not be lack of exposure to Spanish, but relevance” (p. 200). Maybe there are many other aspects to think about this issue, but I find this one rather interesting since mothers do play a fundamental role with regard to family language planning, which is worth investigating.
I know some of you are from families where your parents speak language(s) other than English, so to what extent do you maintain your mother tongue and how do your family make the choice of language? I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.
Van Herk, Gerard (2012). What Is Sociolinguistics?. Hoboken: Wiley.
Velázquez, Isabel (2013). Mother’s Social Network and Family Language Maintenance, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34:2, 189-202. DOI:10.1080/01434632.2012.720984