Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

As the Southwest Moves North: Population Expansion and Sociolinguistic Implications in the Spanish-Speaking Southwest

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

As the Southwest Moves North: Population Expansion and Sociolinguistic Implications in the Spanish-Speaking Southwest

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Population growth over the most recent decennial census period (1990-2000) shows that the greatest index of Spanish-speaking population change in the Southwest has not occurred in traditional Spanish-speaking areas, but rather in adjacent areas not historically known for high concentrations of Spanish speakers. This growth begs the question as to whether the sociodemographic and sociolinguistic makeup of the newer Spanish-speaking populations in these areas is similar to that of those populations in the longer-established Latino communities in the region. To what extent do these newer Spanish-speaking communities mirror those that have longer histories in the region? When looking at language use and its correlation with social variables, do we see an expansion of the Spanish speaking Southwest, or does a 'secondary layer' of Spanish-speaking communities with markedly different sociodemographic compositions from those of the traditional Southwest exist?

The current study seeks to answer these questions by examining Spanish language use in the southwestern United States and its correlation to socioeconomic measures based on those introduced by Bills et al (1995) and Hudson et al (1995). Areal comparisons are made between communities with long-standing concentrations of Spanish speakers and those that have experienced the most growth in recent years to determine how measures such as per capita income, education and linguistic loyalty differ in these regions. (1)

1. INTRODUCTION. From 1980 to 2000, the Spanish-speaking population in the United States grew by approximately 150%, and estimates since the most recent census have shown continued growth. From 1980 to 2006, census estimates show a growth factor of 187% in the Southwest region comprising Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas. While growth in these areas is undeniable, recent immigration patterns within the United States have produced greater growth outside of the traditional areas of immigration. Passel and Suro (2005) show that, from 1992-2004, the six largest U.S. immigration states were outstripped by 22 other new growth states in their growth rates and that 'after the peak immigration period these other states maintained their increased share of immigrants. Thus, the shifting of immigrant settlement to new destinations is not just a short-lived phenomenon associated with the peak levels of immigration' (10). In the western United States, this means that the long-standing destinations of California and Texas, while still receiving new immigrants, did not experience immigration growth at the same rate as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

Within the southwestern states, recent growth has also not followed historical patterns. The greatest index of change in the Southwest has not occurred in the traditional Spanish-speaking counties in New Mexico, Southwest Texas, Southern Colorado and Southern California, but rather in adjacent areas such as Nevada, East Texas and Northern Colorado, regions not previously known for high concentrations of Spanish speakers. In essence, the Spanish-speaking Southwest is expanding in a general northerly direction.

Earlier studies (Grosjean 1982, Portes and Bach 1985, Garcia 1995, Otheguy et al 2000) have suggested that cultural and linguistic enclaves have, at times, enjoyed relative socioeconomic success due in part to the support of an established Spanish-speaking community for incoming immigrants. While there can be no doubt of the existence of established Spanish-speaking communities in the Southwest, Hudson et al (1995), find a strong negative correlation between socioeconomic success and Spanish language maintenance in the region; that is, areas with higher densities of Spanish speakers tend to have lower incomes, lower levels of education and higher levels of poverty and unemployment. Additionally, Bills et al (1995) show language maintenance to be strongest in those areas that are geographically situated for continual interaction between established Spanish-speaking and immigrant populations. …

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