It has to feel awful when people from elsewhere come into your country, overwhelm your culture, and leave your children speaking their language...
It has to feel awful when people from elsewhere come into your country, overwhelm your culture, and leave your children speaking their language.
Some Americans worry about that happening here, maybe because it already has.
I read yesterday about people mourning the death of Marya Moses. She was the last native speaker of Lushootseed living on the Tulalip reservation in Snohomish County.
Lushootseed isn’t gone yet, but many Native American languages have died over the centuries since people speaking Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and other European languages arrived on the continent.
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Why that happened is all about power, and it is why people can stop worrying about Spanish overwhelming English in the U.S. — English is dominant because the people who speak it are dominant.
People who want the goodies the U.S. has to offer generally have to speak English to get them. That’s the way it has always worked. Immigrants come speaking a foreign tongue, and even though they may never be fluent in English they make sure their children learn so that they can prosper.
Once their children are plugged in to this culture, English is what they pass on to their thoroughly American kids.
I’m reading a novel about a Greek-American family in which three generations live together. The immigrant grandparents speak Greek fluently and speak English poorly, their son speaks Greek poorly and English fluently, and his children know only a few words of Greek.
A lot of all-American families have that kind of history.
But we’ve been told by worriers that Spanish would be different because speakers of that language are coming in such large numbers and coming from just next door, close enough for their native tongue to be reinforced.
All that is true, but it’s not enough to overwhelm the pull of English.
A couple of sociologists made that clear last month with a study of families in Southern California.
What they found is that Spanish fluency dies out naturally within two of three generations even in an area that is close to Mexico and has a high concentration of Latin American immigrants.
This wave of immigrants will change America, but they won’t alter its language.
Among Americans with three or four grandparents born in Mexico, but with U.S.-born parents, only 17 percent speak fluent Spanish. Of Americans with just two Mexican-born grandparents only 7 percent are fluent in Spanish.
The study did find that some ability to speak Spanish lasted longer than the ability to speak other foreign languages, but in the end English still wins.
If the professors aren’t authoritative enough, let’s go to a higher source, MTV, which has money riding on understanding this huge wave of immigrants.
Just last week, MTV replaced its “MTV en Español” with “MTV Tr3s” in order to attract young Latinos. It is cutting an all-Spanish broadcast and substituting one that mixes English with a little Spanish. “Tr3s” is three, you know, tres. The network is changing because its research shows most of the people they want to reach speak only English.
Speaking only English is actually not a good thing. It’s likely to be more and more of a problem for our country as the world gets more intertwined.
A story this week said federal prisons are supposed to screen mail to and from convicted terrorists, drug dealers, spies and other dangerous people, but lots of times the mail isn’t screened because there aren’t enough translators to do the job.
Businesses are losing out on opportunities because they don’t have enough people who are fluent in other languages.
And as I said earlier, languages rise and fall along with the power of the people who speak them. If we want to worry about a language problem, maybe we should consider the rise of China as a call to add to our ability to communicate.
Preserving what we have isn’t enough anymore.