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E Pluribus Unum: Bilingualism and Language Loss in the Second Generation


  • Alejandro Portes

    (The Jerome Levy Economics Institute)

  • Lingxin Hao

    (The Jerome Levy Economics Institute)


We examine patterns of language adaption in a sample of over 5,000 second generation students in South Florida and Southern California. Knowledge of English is near universal and preference for that language is dominant among most immigrant nationalities. On the other hand, only a minority remain fluent in the parental languages and there are wide variations among immigrant groups in the extent of their parental linguistic retention. These variations are important for theory and policy because they affect the speed of acculturation and the extent to which sizable pools of fluent bilinguals will be created by today's second generation. We employ multivariate and multi-level analyses to identify the principal factors accounting for variation in foreign language maintenance and bilingualism. While a number of variables emerge as significant predictors, they do not account for differences across immigrant nationalities which become even more sharply delineated. A clear disjunture exists between children of Asian and Hispanic backgrounds whose parental language maintenance and bilingual fluency vary significantly. Reasons for this divergence are explored and their policy implications are discussed.

Suggested Citation

  • Alejandro Portes & Lingxin Hao, 1998. "E Pluribus Unum: Bilingualism and Language Loss in the Second Generation," Macroeconomics 9805006, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:9805006
    Note: Type of Document - Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC; to print on PostScript; pages: 48; figures: included

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    Cited by:

    1. Abramitzky, Ran & Boustan, Leah & Catron, Peter & Connor, Dylan & Voigt, Rob, 2021. "Refugees without Assistance: English-Language Attainment and Economic Outcomes in the Early Twentieth Century," SocArXiv 429jp, Center for Open Science.

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    JEL classification:

    • E - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics


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