Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Serbian…Serblish…English: Mother Tongue Maintenance or Loss by Serbian Americans

Serbian…Serblish…English: Mother Tongue Maintenance or Loss by Serbian Americans
Cindy Pavlovich-Golusin

The process of language assimilation into American society threatens mother tongue language maintenance in second and third generation Serbian-Americans in Detroit, Michigan. Mother tongue refers to the language spoken from birth and in the country of origin by immigrant members of an ethnic group. Previous scholars, such as Milivojevic, Portes, and Schrauf, have isolated several factors that influence language maintenance or shift, in particular, the family setting, e.g. exogamous versus endogamous marriages.

Factors measured in this study included: the effect of exogamous versus endogamous marriages on language shift in second generation Serbian-Americans, its effect on subsequent generations, and other factors contributing to language shift e.g. practice of religion, residential concentration, education, and others. At a micro level, three generations of Serbian Americans were selected from St. Lazarus Serbian Orthodox Church in Detroit, Michigan. An initial survey was conducted at the church to identify endogamous and exogamous marriages in this population. Eight families of three generations were selected for interviews. In each family, the wife/mother was extensively interviewed, exploring causative factors that may contribute to language shift in each generation.

Of the factors measured, religion is a significant contributor to language maintenance in the endogamous marriage group. The exogamous marriages demonstrated a significantly higher language shift to English. A slight increase in language maintenance was found in both endogamous and exogamous marriage groups when the wife/mother was Serbian, compared to non-Serbian. In the majority of the generations, the wife/mother did not work out of the home prior to the children attending school. Despite endogamous marriages, the father did not play an active role in language maintenance. Contributing factors to language loss were:

(1) Education played a significant role in language loss in the second generation, attributed to English dominance in school settings.
(2) Labor: Half of the first generation and all of the second generation expressed the necessity to speak English to obtain employment.

Overall, in both the endogamous and exogamous groups, a significant language shift to English occurred by the second generation. English dominance prevailed in the third generation Serbian-Americans.

April 17, 2009 - Posted by | abstract


  1. The influence of religion in language maintenance doesn’t surprise me at all! I have read accounts from Colonial America about similar issues in the German Moravian community in the eighteenth century.

    Is the church or church community actively involved in encouraging language preservation?

    Comment by Elanya | April 20, 2009 | Reply

    • The church provides language classes for adults weekly during the winter months. Children are introduced to Serbian language in Sunday Bible school. Exposure to Serbian language also occurs in other church activities for children,the Dance Folklore group, and in Junior choir, the church does not conduct formal language classes for children at this time.
      Attendance in the adult language classes are small avg. 10/week. Children and young adult activities are well attended, 100/week. Average church attendance 400/week.
      Thank you for your interest.

      Comment by Cindy Pavlovich-Golusin | April 21, 2009 | Reply

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