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Unformatted text preview: Hinton/1 1 Involuntary Language Loss Among Immigrants: Asian-American Linguistic Autobiographies Leanne Hinton University of California, Berkeley in Language in our time: Georgetown University Round Table in Language and Linguistics, 1999. Pp. 203-252. Despite the fact that some 97% of the American population knows English “very well” or “well”, according to the 1990 census, there is a constant fear expressed by various public figures that the English language is somehow endangered in America, and the only way for English to maintain its status is for other languages to disappear. Despite decades of research findings to the contrary, a large portion of the American public, the educational system, and the government believe that bilingualism is both bad for children and unpatriotic, and that the only way to be a true American is to leave behind any other language and allegiance that might be in your background. As we will see in this paper, children also buy into this belief system -- both long term Americans and immigrant children. Yet at the same time, there is a strong feeling among immigrant families that it is important to maintain ties with the old country and to maintain the heritage language. Among the children of immigrant parents, this conflict between assimilation and heritage maintenance is played out in various ways at different stages of life. I will be looking here at the stages between birth and college-age-- only the beginning of life, but the most important time in terms of language development. This paper is based on a set of about 250 “linguistic autobiographies” I have selected, of Asian American college students, done over the last several years in a class at the University of California at Berkeley. The heart of this paper is the quotes from the autobiographies themselves. In this self-reporting mode, we see the human side of language shift, rather than the political. 1 It is usually the goal of the parents for their children to be bilingual: to learn English fluently but not forget their heritage language. To the parents' disappointment (and ultimately to the regret of the child, as we shall see) this goal is only rarely fully achieved. We will see that it is commonplace that fluency in the first language declines as English improves, so that by the end of the highschool years, the child is a semi- speaker of his heritage language at best. We will examine here the pattern of language shift that takes place in the young first or second generation student, and why this shift takes place. We will look at the kinds of efforts made by families to keep the heritage language strong, and why they are usually doomed to failure....
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This note was uploaded on 12/18/2009 for the course LING 155AC taught by Professor Rhodes during the Fall '09 term at Berkeley.
- Fall '09