, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 467-484

Only English by the third generation? Loss and preservation of the mother tongue among the grandchildren of contemporary immigrants

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We investigate whether a three-generation model of linguistic assimilation, known from previous waves of immigration, can be applied to the descendants of contemporary immigrant groups. Using the 5% Integrated Public Use Microdata Sample 1990 file, we examine the home languages of second- and third-generation children and compare the degree of their language shift against that among the descendants of European immigrants, as evidenced in the 1940 and 1970 censuses. Overall, the rates of speaking only English for a number of contemporary groups suggest that Anglicization is occurring at roughly the same pace for Asians as it did for Europeans, but is slower among the descendants of Spanish speakers. Multivariate models for three critical groups—Chinese, Cubans, and Mexicans—indicate that the home languages of third-generation children are most affected by factors, such as intermarriage, that determine the languages spoken by adults and by the communal context.

This research was supported by Grant SBR95-07920 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Center for Social and Demographic Analysis, University at Albany, provided technical and administrative support through grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P30 HD32041) and the NSF (SBR-9512290). A previous version of this article was presented at the 1999 annual meetings of the Population Association of America. We are grateful for the comments we received there and from anonymous reviewers.