MAINTAINING YOUR LANGUAGE.

Mbristow has been doing research on minority language communities and started to wonder how people maintain their language, so she’s collecting personal stories of language learning, loss and use at a new site she’s started, languageaccount. If you have stories you’d like to share, you might pay it a visit.
(Sorry about the lack of posting lately; it was a triple whammy of editing deadline, heavy dose of grandson-sitting, and then the access problems, which apparently had to do with something called “php” and which were resolved by the excellent songdog, without whom this blog would never have existed in the first place and who has guided it through too many minicrises of this sort. Thanks, songdog!)

Comments

  1. Trading babysitting, eh?

  2. Trading babysitting, eh?

  3. We missed you. I had to actually write a post about language myself because I wanted to read one. Of course ya gotta do whatcha gotta do. But still. It just wasn’t the same.

  4. stormboy says:

    Thanks for the link. Do any of you knowledgeable people know of any academic studies that look at language retention rates among children of immigrants (i.e. retention/acquisition of parental language(s))?
    My impression (for the UK) has always been that children of Chinese speakers (specifically Hong Kong Cantonese) have far higher retention rates than, say, children of Nigerians (with South Asians falling somewhere in between).
    This is probably easily explained by the fact that Nigerian immigrants are more likely to have fluency in English on arrival in the UK than their Chinese counterparts. But this is just a hunch and I’d like to see evidence for or against this.

  5. Lack of posting? You’ve managed to post every day for several years, so you deserve a couple days off. So far, you’ve demonstrated incredible discipline.

  6. marie-lucie says:

    Stormboy: I don’t know of specific studies offhand, but there are a number of journals that address this type of issues: look for titles containing words such as society, immigration, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, multilingualism, language retention.
    Whether children retain the language of their parents depends to a large extent on whether the parents keep talking to the kids in their own language or not, and also on whether the parents are part of a larger community that does so as a matter of course. If the parents already know English (or French in France) and speak English to their children, who also go to school in English, of course the children will speak English and may or may not have a passive knowledge of another language the parents may speak between themselves. If the household is bilingual (for instance with grandparents who speak, let’s say Punjabi), the children may be bilingual if at least one of the older adults interacts with them in the native language, although if there are several children, the younger ones may not have that much direct contact with the old speaker.
    From the point of view of the adults, parents who are both from the same language background, have older relatives in the household, feel a part of a wider same language community and want their children to keep being part of it, and keep strong ties to their family and culture of origin back home, are more likely to raise children who speak their language (although there may be different problems with the second generation), than parents who are from different language backgrounds and/or are less secure in their identification and ties with their culture of origin.

  7. michael farris says:

    Provocative ideas (with no sound basis!):
    The single biggest variable in predicting minority language death is the native speakers attitude towards the language (according to a book on endangered languages I reviewed some years ago).
    That is, if they see speaking the language as a worthwhile activity on its own then a language can survive pretty severe hardship. If they place a higher value on integration into a larger group or purely monetary considerations then the language is much more vulnerable.
    I think this might carry over to immigrant attitudes and (I think) colonial history can play a pretty big role.
    Linguistically colonialism was far more devestating to the socio-cultural development of Sub-Saharan languages than Indian languages or Chinese. To this day it’s hard to point to much online activity at all in even the major Subsaharan languages (like newspapers, personal journals etc). The development of literary versions of these languages is about 150 years behind where it should be. AFAIK there’s no indigenous movement with any strength for aiding in development if anything the idea of language transfer to English, French and Portuguese seems stronger than ever.
    The situation in India is not great for local languages, but literary versions of a number of languages had been developed and couldn’t be stopped and is maintained. It’s easy to find online materials (for native speakers) in all the major Indian languages and some minor ones.
    On the other hand, China has relatively little experience of being governed in a non-Chinese language (even in Hong Kong English use was never more than skin deep) and Chinese (however you define it) is seen as the vehicle of a great civilization and worth knowing for its own sake.
    So, an Igbo, Bengali and Chinese speaker will have very different ideas about the relative value of their language vis-a-vis English.

  8. michael farris says:

    From the counter-intuitive department:
    Back as an undergraduate a lecturer made a reference to a study of German speaking immigrants to Brazil. Surprisingly, it found that those living in areas with strong German-speaking communities learned Portuguese _faster_ than those who were more isolated.
    I’ve never seriously looked for the reference but if so, I imagine the variable is having models to follow. In an area with lots of Germanophones new arrivals can see people in various stages of learning to adapt linguistically and are reassured it’s possible while those more isolated are more on their own and the whole language learning process seems more difficult and improbable.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    MF, I fully agree with your statements above about speakers’ perceptions of the value of their own languages. That’s one of the factors in feeling strongly or not attached to one’s original community. Coming from a strong literary tradition is an important factor in this attachment.
    About the Germans in Brazil, as an additional factor it is possible that people in the strong communities do not feel threatened by having to learn Portuguese, (and also want to “join the club” of their congeners who have learned it), while the isolated ones are more likely to feel threatened in their identity. Also, I don’t know the distribution of Germans in the country but those in big cities would probably have access to language schools or other facilities to help them learn Portuguese (including some teachers of German origin), while those in more isolated areas would be more likely to have to rely on their own devices.

  10. American Chinese make active efforts to teach their kids Chinese, e.g. night schools. I think that this is especially reading, writing, and Mandarin. The local dialects (Chaozhou dialect, I think, in the case of Portland OR) once were almost completely useless outside very restricted areas on two sides of the Pacific — many early immigrants spoke not only Contonese, but nonstandard Cantonese (often really separate languages entirely, “Cantonese” is an umbrella term just as “Chinese” is.) There’s an amusing episode in Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Woman Warrior” about this; applying for a job she finds that her verion of Chinese doesn’t count.
    It came up in an earlier thread, but before and during WWI there were fierce political controversies about the use of German in American public schools in heavily German areas, and IIRC the bilingual schools were forced to become monolingual. (Also with Scandinavian languages, but much less so).

  11. American Chinese make active efforts to teach their kids Chinese, e.g. night schools. I think that this is especially reading, writing, and Mandarin. The local dialects (Chaozhou dialect, I think, in the case of Portland OR) once were almost completely useless outside very restricted areas on two sides of the Pacific — many early immigrants spoke not only Contonese, but nonstandard Cantonese (often really separate languages entirely, “Cantonese” is an umbrella term just as “Chinese” is.) There’s an amusing episode in Maxine Hong Kingston’s “Woman Warrior” about this; applying for a job she finds that her verion of Chinese doesn’t count.
    It came up in an earlier thread, but before and during WWI there were fierce political controversies about the use of German in American public schools in heavily German areas, and IIRC the bilingual schools were forced to become monolingual. (Also with Scandinavian languages, but much less so).

  12. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Did anyone object to Scandinavian languages in particular (Scandinavia being neutral in WW1), or was it just an objection to bilingual schools in general ? The US was only in WW1 from 1917-18, but maybe the controversy continued afterwards.

  13. thats a good idea. learning languages through personal authentic stories. great! i love it!

  14. Scandinavian languages were never specifically targeted, but attacks on German-language public schools ended up requiring laws which also forbade Scandinavian-, Polish-, and Czech-language public schools.
    There was a real threshold. Up until 1920 or so Old Stock Americans and their collaborators ran the state on tight Republican principles, and they attacked dissidents and “hyphenated Americanism” very aggressively, but by 1922 or so the Germans and Scandinavians had won some victories and Old Stock Americans never regained control.

  15. Scandinavian languages were never specifically targeted, but attacks on German-language public schools ended up requiring laws which also forbade Scandinavian-, Polish-, and Czech-language public schools.
    There was a real threshold. Up until 1920 or so Old Stock Americans and their collaborators ran the state on tight Republican principles, and they attacked dissidents and “hyphenated Americanism” very aggressively, but by 1922 or so the Germans and Scandinavians had won some victories and Old Stock Americans never regained control.

  16. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I had thought it was the Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and so on themselves who had objected to being hyphenated. I didn’t know about ‘Old Stock’ Americans, that must be like the DAR.

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