Spanish and the Church: Intergenerational language maintenance in a Hispanic religious community
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Spanish is being lost at an alarming rate in the United States, for most immigrant families within two to three generations of arrival. Previous research indicates that the third generation of Hispanic immigrants typically becomes English monolingual (Veltman 2000; Appel & Muysken 1987; Fishman 1978). This investigation examines the role the Church can play in supporting Spanish language maintenance. Based on interviews conducted in a Hispanic Church community with 48 subjects aged 13 to 80 years together with data on child language proficiency, it considers the ways in which religious or church factors interact with societal, community, and individual/demographic variables in order to support or impede Spanish language maintenance. Findings suggest that several church factors promote Spanish language maintenance, including identity, a perceived sense of cultural community, informal policy, and parishioner support for teaching Spanish. Also, the Church provides a venue for practicing the minority language and Church leaders and elders serve as models of Standard Spanish. However, other factors are detrimental to Spanish language maintenance. Changes in the demographic composition of the congregation over time have led to generational conflict between first- and second- and subsequent-generation immigrants. The groups differ in opinion regarding the relative importance of evangelism and preserving the Spanish language. With regard to societal and community level factors, these are not generally supportive of language maintenance. Perceptions of Spanish in the United States as a language of low cultural and economic status and negative attitudes toward bilingual education are especially detrimental. Amongst the individual/demographic variables examined, generation of immigration and age appear to be most strongly associated with language maintenance outcomes. Homes headed by first-generation, middle-aged and older immigrants had the most positive language maintenance outcomes. Homes headed by second- and subsequent-generation, younger immigrants had a greater likelihood of language loss. Both groups reported highly positive attitudes toward Spanish language maintenance. However, in the latter segment of the population positive attitudes do not appear to be closely associated with language supporting behaviors. Further findings indicate that SES (socioeconomic status) and exogamy also exert some influence on Spanish language maintenance.