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Linguistic Distance and the Language Fluency of Immigrants

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  • Isphording, Ingo E.
  • Otten, Sebastian

Abstract

We use a newly available measure of linguistic distance developed by the German Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to explain heterogeneity in language skills of immigrants. This measure is based on an automatical algorithm comparing pronunciation and vocabulary of language pairs. Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel covering the period from 1997 to 2003, the linguistic distance measure is applied within a human capital framework of language acquisition. It is shown that linguistic distance is the most important determinant for host country language acquisition and that it explains a large fraction of language skill heterogeneity between immigrants. By lowering the effi ciency and imposing higher costs of language learning, the probability of reporting good language skills is decreasing by increasing linguistic distance.

Suggested Citation

  • Isphording, Ingo E. & Otten, Sebastian, 2011. "Linguistic Distance and the Language Fluency of Immigrants," Ruhr Economic Papers 274, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Ruhr-University Bochum, TU Dortmund University, University of Duisburg-Essen.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:rwirep:274
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Linguistic distance; language; immigrants; human capit; Linguistic distance; language; immigrants; human capital;

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • J40 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - General

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