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American myths of linguistic assimilation: A sociolinguistic rebuttal

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 February 2020

Daniel Erker*
Boston University, USA
Ricardo Otheguy
The Graduate Center, CUNY, USA
Address for correspondence: Daniel Erker Boston University Department of Linguistics 621 Commonwealth Avenue Boston, MA02215,


This study examines the behavior of 331 Spanish speakers, 269 immigrants to the United States and sixty-two native-born individuals, through questionnaires and sociolinguistic interviews. Results show that increased US life experience correlates with expanded use of English in both private and public domains of life. Additionally, greater use of English co-exists with maintenance of fine-grained patterns of structured linguistic variation in Spanish, such that US-born speakers demonstrate remarkable similarity to the immigrant generation in their usage of three variables: (i) subject pronoun presence vs. absence, (ii) grammatical subject position, and (iii) syllable-final /s/. The co-occurence of increased use of English, on one hand, and intergenerational structural continuity in variable linguistic behavior in Spanish, on the other, challenges two misconceptions about Spanish in the United States: that (a) Spanish-speaking immigrants and their US-born children are unwilling or unable to learn English, and (b) regular use of English entails attrition and/or failed acquisition of Spanish. Neither of these views finds empirical support in our data. (Spanish in the United States, comparative variationist linguistics, subject personal pronouns, grammatical subject position, syllable final /s/, bilingualism)

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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