Sunday, October 19, 2008

Immigrants learning English

Miranda Wilkerson (a recent Wisconsin Ph.D. who does second language acquisition) and our contributor Joe just had a piece in American Speech showing that German-speaking immigrants to Wisconsin didn't learn English quickly, in fact even for two or three generations in many cases. It's called "'Good old immigrants of yesteryear' who didn't learn English" and appears in vol. 83, pp. 259-283. They note that scholars like Calvin Veltman show that contemporary immigrants, in contrast, are learning English as fast as they can.

The local paper has picked up the story, here. The 'community comments' section after on-line articles is pretty consistently a forum for screaming wingnuts. It's kinda of like a Palin rally in cyberspace in terms of the attitude toward the media and the racism. It's interesting in this case that a lot of people are actually speaking up showing some knowledge of family, local and state history.


Dr X said...

I'm a second generation American who grew up with American-born bilingual parents and many older immigrant relatives who never learned to speak English well. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about present day misrepresentations of those earlier immigrants to America.

Joe said...

Thanks, Dr. X, for that link. Your family's history is a good illustration of the general situation we've seen in lots of places.

Mr V (hey, what's with the title + letter thing here?), note that Miranda Wilkerson did the real heavy lifting on this paper -- and is leading the way on some even cooler work that we're planning and starting now.

--Prof J

Joanne Mason said...

Very interesting article, especially the point that non-German speakers in the community were willing to learn German. I wonder how often that even happens nowadays.

alai said...

Thanks for a link to the article. Coming from Louisiana, however, I'm not that shocked to learn that many immigrants didn't bother learning English for several generations. My mother's family still speaks French amongst family, as do many from my her region. My father even picked it up after marrying my mother, despite purposefully speaking only in English as a child.

... though there do seem to be a good number of nuts on the article's comment thread now. Good times.

Joe said...

Thanks. Yeah, there are tons of cases like this all over the country.