Throughout this paper I will cover a variety of topics all related to the Spanish language. Through all of this research I plan to conclude what factors influence the sustainability of the Spanish language among immigrants and their future generations. I would like to explore specific factors that may influence language loss. Some of these influences may include geographical, structural, social, or simply personal decisions. All of these will have some type of effect on the sustainability of the speakers’ native language.
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To further support my research question I will explore in depth if specific things like minority populations, and region customs that may have an effect on the language maintenance will be examined as well. Is there a possibility that the speakers of the language feel discriminated against or will be looked at differently if they speak their native language, possibly even pushing them to make the rash decision to stop speaking their native tongue all together. Most immigrant parents get angry if their child is in a bilingual school and is being taught Spanish instead of English.
What could be causing parents to feel this way, to not want their children to learn their native language, their heritage? According to the world Ethnologue, 22,400,000 people speak Spanish in the United States. This ranks the US 5th in countries with the largest Spanish speaking population (Lewis, 2009). This is a huge number and there have to be a plethora of reasons why this language that is spoken so widely, is so frowned upon in this country.
In Amy Lutz’s research of Spanish speaking youth she had to say “children who speak Spanish well do so because they live in an environment in which their foreign-born parents use Spanish with them” (Lutz, 2006). What she was able to discover through her work is that it is very important for parents to use Spanish at home in order for the child to successfully speak and maintain it as well. She went on to say that although likely the most important, it is not the only factor. The community, in which they grow up in, including family and school, are needed to allow the young learners to practice in different environments and essential to the development of the Spanish Language in their minds.
Robby Kurkus in his article “Losing Native Language in a Family” touches on the topic of learning Spanish while at home. He answers the question of how can a Native Language be lost if its spoken within the family daily? He go’s on to explain that most parents are busy working and trying to keep their families financially stable. Since they are not as home as much as they would like, and mostly at different times from their children with the differences in their two schedules, they are almost barely communicating or letting their children learn Spanish. (Kukurs, 2010). He go’s on saying “While the mother usually spends the first years taking care of the child at home, a kindergarten is definitely an option starting from as early as 2 or 3 years of age. So if the parents don’s spend enough time communicatingâ€¦ English can easily become their primary language!” (Kukurs, 2010). Since work is so essential it is very likely that low-income immigrant parents will put their child into a daycare or kindergarten at a young age.
Another point brought up by Kukurs is a possible influence on the Spanish immigrants salvation of their first language that has to do with staying connected with their home country. He said that it is always more effective at preserving their Spanish since speakers in a place where their first language may become obsolete and not needed in their community, keeping in touch with relatives at home gives the languages a reason to coexist. Therefore it prolongs the immigrant’s bilingualism (Kukurs, 2010). This is true for not only immigrant adults but their new American-born children who are expected to learn Spanish as well, if not they would be basically disconnected from aunts, uncles, and grandparents thanks to the language barrier (Kukurs, 2010).
The House of Representatives at one time was looking into making English he official language of the United States. They felt that one official language would bring about the idea of unity. The US has always been considered a “melting pot”. Where persons of all nationalities come together as one. Even though our origins may be different, we come together since we are American. The thing that brings people together the most is language, and here in the US that language is English. “There are eighty countries around the world with one official language and as a ‘leading nation’ the United States should be able to come forward as one nation, one people under one language” (House of Representatives 1996). This could be one reason why current Americans are so against allowing a second language to become so common.
Dwight Teel explains a concept of Linguistic hegemony. Linguistic hegemony is explained as “when dominant groups create a consensus by convincing others to accept their language norms and usage as standard orâ€¦ is ensured when they can convince those who fail to meet those standards to view their failure a being the result of the inadequacy of their own language” (Wiley, 2000: 113). This can be directly related to what is going on right here in the United States. Even though the US does not have an official language, many feel just because it is the majority language it should be the only language spoken in this country. We, as the majority English speakers, pressure minority languages like Spanish into nonexistence. Even when it is used we choose to frown upon it and make immigrants and their children feel uncomfortable speaking their own native tongue.
For example, in Dwight Teel’s Article, “Preventing Prejudice against Spanish Speaking Children”, he specifically writes “to many persons, the Latin-American has been earmarked as less well educated oftentimes as illiterate and as a source of cheap labor”(Teel, 1954). So because of stereotypes like this unless completely surrounded by Spanish speakers, they must always consider the fear that someone may be listening to them and therefore think lesser of them. The common misconception is that just because someone speaks Spanish, and is either incapable of speaking English, or speaks very little with an accent, it means they are dumb or incompetent. This is not the case, and often this misconception causes many Spanish speakers to feel uncomfortable speaking in public; even if its in English, just because they are concerned they will be accepted differently because of their accents. Sadly, in most cases, even if it’s just thought mentally, most people really do reconsider their opinions about a speaker just because of how they sound.
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I asked to interview a co-worker of mine and ask few questions about his life as well as his opinions on some topics. His name is Hector Colon. He was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the US at the age of 6. The first language he learned as a child was Spanish and as a result speaks in a fairly heavy accent when speaking English. I began by asking him what language he preferred to speak. He quickly responded “Spanish, definitely”. I asked him to elaborate and he went on to tell me he feels uncomfortable speaking English in this country because he feels like he is judged for his accent, and then viewed differently. He continued to say “â€¦like job interviews, the second they heard me speak they would look up and give me a dirty look like I had done something wrong”. I then asked, so you prefer to speak Spanish in public then rather then English? He shook his head no in a almost shamed manner. A few seconds later he said “Spanish is even worse in public, like, if im in my neighborhood where everyone is Spanish everything is all good, I feel comfortableâ€¦ anywhere besides there, I feel horrible the way people look at me. I feel dumb and like just not acceptedâ€¦ most times I don’t say nothing at all in public”. Here is an excellent (or awful) example of an immigrant, moving to the US, learning the English language, but still feeling like an outcast for speaking either of the languages. It’s almost like he’s stuck in an identity crisis, no matter which he speaks he is still not accepted and rather just choose to not participate in society at all if the option is available to him.
One of the last questions I asked him is if he planned to teach Spanish to his children. He replied, “Nope, I grew up most of my life dealing with this and id rather them just be great at English. Spanish is too much of a hassle in this country”. So Hector, a Puerto Rican native, who travels back to his Spanish speaking family frequently, has made the decision to not teach his kids any Spanish because of how harshly it is frowned upon here. There is an instant feeling wrongdoing when I heard him say that, and I felt sorry for his children. His children will be cut off from their heritage, and regular coherent contact with most of his family because of how America, its lawmakers, and its citizens, choose to accept minority languages such as Spanish.
This is also a prime example of Teel’s explanation of Linguistic hegemony. America has basically convinced him that Spanish is incorrect and (properly spoken) English is right. He feels ashamed and wrong to use the language he feels most comfortable with in fear of retaliation and judgments from the people around him.
Then again, looking at the telling tale of history, discrimination is not something new in this country. Acceptance of new immigrants has always been a problem for our population in the past. Almost all immigrant groups had to deal with the “natives”, who were really immigrants themselves a few decades before, dislike and discriminate against their group and language simply because of who they were. The Japanese, German, Italian, and Irish just to name a few, all dealt with similar scenarios upon their arrival to the United States. Yet, they are all widely accepted today as average everyday Americans, it leaves but to ask is rejection the first step of acceptance here?
Throughout my research and interviews, I was able to discover and establish that the sustainability and maintenance of Spanish in the United States is made very difficult by American society. A nasty concoction of unneeded hate and discrimination is playing a large role in the loss of the Spanish language by immigrants and their children. Their lives will not be made any easier as the local government figures are now ramping up this “War Against Spanish”. 29 states have already passed “English Only” laws that mandate that no public signs, government documents, or public gathering be written or conducted in any language except English. As momentum builds towards this ‘ideal’ country of one official language, the lives of immigrants will only get more difficult, and what is even sadder is that if this progress ensues it is almost a sure bet that Spanish will be impossible to maintain outside of majority Hispanic communities.
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