Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Spanish Language Shift in Chicago

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Spanish Language Shift in Chicago

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Over 800 Latino high school and college students in Chicago, Illinois, reported via a written questionnaire that they used Spanish 75% or more of the time with their parents and other adults in the family. However, Spanish use with siblings, friends, cousins, and their own children averaged just 45% and was negatively correlated with length of residence in the U.S. This combined with overall low levels of daily Spanish use point to a language shift to English. The factors that appear to hold back a complete shift to English include positive attitudes toward Spanish, allegiance to Spanish-language music artists, reported high levels of Spanish proficiency, and the recontact opportunities offered by the influx of young Spanish-speaking immigrants to Chicago.*

INTRODUCTION. The Hispanic population in the U.S. grew 58% between 1990 and 2000, climbing from 22.4 million to 35.3 million (U.S. Census Bureau 2000). Since approximately 40% of this population was born in Latin America, the nation's increasing number of Latinos is due in part to new immigration from Spanish-speaking countries. However, members of the second and third generations constitute the other 60% of U.S. Latinos, and most of these individuals have learned English: Overall 51% of U.S. Hispanics claimed to speak English 'very well.' Given that high proficiency in English has been found to correlate to less extensive use of Spanish (Bills, Hudson & Hernandez-Chavez 2000) and the general tendency for heritage languages in the U.S. to cease being spoken by the third generation, continued examination of Spanish language maintenance is useful.

The majority of Spanish maintenance research in the United States has taken place in the Southwest, New York, and Miami. Floyd's (1985) review of eight Southwest language use surveys published between 1970 and 1984 found evidence of language shift from Spanish to English, particularly among younger speakers. More recent studies in the Southwest have also found evidence of Spanish loss and shift to English (Bills, Hernandez-Chavez & Hudson 1995, Bernal Enriquez 2000, Bills, Hudson & Hernandez-Chavez 2000, Rivera-Mills 2001). Silva-Corvalan's (1996) data indicate that third generation Spanish speakers in Los Angeles have considerably reduced Spanish verbal systems, which undoubtedly has important effects on language transmission and change. Although Hidalgo (1993) concluded that among students in a Mexican border high school, 'the values and functions of Spanish have not been dislocated but have only been minimized' (65-6), the majority of evidence from the Southwest points to language shift to English.

New York and Miami have also seen a good deal of Spanish maintenance research. Among Puerto Ricans in New York City, Zentella (1997) and Pedraza (1985) found a definite shift to English, but one that was accompanied by domains in which Spanish was preferred (such as child-rearing), a high degree of loyalty to Spanish, and a concept of Latino identity that did not require Spanish proficiency. Garcia, Evangelista, Martinez, Disla, and Paulino (1988) found that Dominicans in two New York neighborhoods reported using significant amounts of Spanish (between 84-98%) with siblings and parents, and only slightly less (between 66-72%) with children and friends. The middle-class group used more English in public than the working-class group, which the authors attributed to the need for linguistic minorities to 'respond to the language surround in which they are immersed' (Garcia et al. 1988:508), including the fact that that speakers of stigmatized varieties of Spanish may prefer to abandon Spanish in favor of English. Another sign of shift in that study was that Puerto Ricans and Cubans used considerably less Spanish with children and friends than with parents. However, publications about Spanish maintenance in New York appear slightly more optimistic than those in the Southwest, probably due to the recency of Hispanic immigration on the East Coast. …

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