Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Language Loss and Maintenance in the United States: An Examination of Mexican and Japanese Immigrants and their Kin

Language Loss and Maintenance in the United States: An Examination of Mexican and Japanese Immigrants and their Kin

Stephanie Nava

This essay explores the effects of English language dominance on Mexican and Japanese United States immigrants and their offspring.  It also looks at the actions that Mexican and Japanese speakers take in order to preserve their heritage language while living in the United States.  Over the past hundred years, monolingual Americans have seen the English language as being essential for American nationalism and foreign languages were seen as a threat to the nation’s unity.  Many immigrants and their children have sacrificed their heritage language to become a member of American society and to lessen the discrimination held against them for being a “foreigner”.  Considering the fact that Mexican and Japanese individuals come from very different backgrounds both culturally and linguistically, it is suspected that English language dominance will affect Mexican and Japanese individuals differently.  Do Mexican, Spanish speaking individuals lose their language faster than Japanese speaking Japanese individuals in the United States, and why?  Is it important for parents to teach their children their heritage language and what actions do they take to ensure their children are familiar with their mother tongue?  A review of literature suggests that Japanese immigrants and their children lose their language faster than Mexican immigrants and their children due to various reasons.  For example, Spanish is more prevalent than Japanese in the United States, especially in schools and in the media allowing Spanish speaking individuals to have continued exposure to their language.  Intermarriage, trips to the mother country and living arrangements also play a role in language loss and maintenance.  In considering future explorations of this topic, much of the literature did not incorporate modern internet technologies and it would be interesting to explore how new technologies aid with the maintenance and loss of heritage language.

Keywords: Language loss; language maintenance, Mexican immigrants, Japanese immigrants, United States, English language dominance


April 18, 2012 - Posted by | abstract


  1. Your conclusions in the abstract are not surprising, Stephanie. I also agree with you that it would be interesting to explore the role of internet.

    Comment by Ljiljana Progovac | April 18, 2012 | Reply

  2. The first thought I had here was: can one characterize the entire United States under these generalities. Adding “Tendencies Toward” at the beginning of the title would erase this concern. Second, I wondered: why were Japanese and (Mexican) Spanish chosen? It makes me wonder if these two languages provide clues to broader patterns of assimilation or resistance to assimilation. More particularly, I am very keen on “foreign cultures” providing, maintaining, and asserting their alternative over-against the general horror-story of “white” “middle class” capitalistic (non)culture. That Vietnamese and Chinese people exhibit an impressive degree of resistance to assimilation seems like a socially desirable strategy I wish more of us had. Japanese immigrants may, in various ways, already be primed to assimilate; Mexican-Spanish speakers either not so much so or the general wider reach of Spanish-speaking culture etc (as you detail may enable more resistance to the hegemonic norm. It may be at this point in your research that such issues are “beyond the data” but these topics would elevate the interest of the paper that much more.

    Comment by Snow Leopard | June 13, 2012 | Reply

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