Date: Tue, 11 Mar 1997 18:39:37 -0500 From: Beverly Flanigan Subject: Re: Immigrants' learning of English As a third-generation American, daughter of (typical) second-generation bilinguals, I used to marvel at the fact that my parents, talking to each other and to their parents, could keep secrets from me! Incidentally, when I asked my mother some years ago how it felt to be bilingual, she looked puzzled and asked me what that meant. (I wasn't trying to sound hypereducated, but the word was obviously not familiar to her.) When I explained, she lit up and said of course, she enjoyed being able to talk in two languages--but it was something she just took for granted, since almost everyone around her could do the same. But this doesn't mean she had no difficulty becoming bilingual; when she spoke Norwegian in school, the monolinguals (and more "assimilated" bilinguals) laughed at her. A little help never hurts. She did become fluent in English in time, of course, but her (and my father's) parents always "talked broken," as she said. Wasn't it Einar Haugen (or Weinreich?) who modeled the generational process as Ab-AB-aB, with the AB sometimes extending through two generations but seldom more? How long a family remains "balanced bilingual AB" depends primarily on the social isolation and/or cohesiveness of the speech community and only secondarily on lack of economic opportunity, since low income and job-limited immigrants feel most keenly the need to get English. They don't learn English, as Ellen Johnson said, to "show their gratitude," and neither did my grandparents; I doubt that any immigrant or migrant ever does or did. On the other hand, Florida Cubans, as Ellen notes, learned English quickly, but they also keep Spanish, not because of class or income but because of their ideological hope of returning to Cuba someday. In my "Language in America" course I use an old article by Nathan Glazer (early 70s? can't put my hand on it right now) on factors favoring and disfavoring language maintenance by immigrants (with Fishman recommended too, of course). But for hard data, I always cite Garland Bills and Hudson-Edwards on language shift in an Albuquerque barrio. (Garland, can you cite it for us? I can't find this one either!) In this ten-square block area the pattern of shift, in both home use and outside use, clearly followed Haugen's model, with or without "forcing" (I suppose the schools could be said to force English use, but only in their domain, and they certainly didn't force the adult first generation to shift). Ironically, while the article set out to document the loss of ancestral language skills, it also demonstrated powerfully the lack of a need to "force" the new language on anyone! The English-only argument that immigrants won't learn English unless we force them to is really a non-issue. Beverly Olson Flanigan