Ethnic Identity and the Maintenance of Heritage Languages Essays

Ethnic Identity and the Maintenance of Heritage Languages Essays

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Ethnic Identity and the Maintenance of Heritage Languages


‘Neither ethnicity nor mother tongue
nor even identities can be treated as
things, commodities, that one can
choose and discard like an old coat at will’
~Tove Skutnabb-Kangas (qtd in Fishman 55)

Broadly speaking, “language policy” in the United States is thought of as a covert policy. Schiffman (2000) writes of the challenges of researching this field, given that issues of language are usually addressed subordinately to other issues. In Schiffman’s view, it is a fallacy to assume that the U.S. government is neutral in regard to issues of language simply because the U.S. does not have an official language; in actuality, the strength of this “covert” policy lies in how the government deals with issues of language in conjunction with, for example, education and immigration policies (Schiffman 211). Despite America’s history of immigration and linguistic diversity, the only overt piece of legislation passed whose purpose was to protect a specific language’s use was the Native American Languages Act of 1990 (Schiffman 263), which stated that protecting Native American languages was the “policy” of the United States government.

From the 19th century onward, English, then, has served as a “de facto” language of the United States, although no laws in addition to the previously mentioned act have been enacted to protect the rights of speakers of languages other than English. Many researchers have pointed out how the federal government did not intervene in issues of language, because the right to speak a language was considered a natural extension of living in a democratic society, and therefore did not have to be protected under the law (as cited in Bey...


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“Steve.” Personal Interview. 28 April, 2003.
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Works Consulted

“Gold Mountain Dreams,” and “Between Two Worlds.” Becoming American: The Chinese Experience. Narr. Bill Moyers. Producer Thomas Lennon. PBS. 25-26 March 2003.

Jen, Gish. Mona in the Promised Land. New York: Vintage, 1997.
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Piller, Ingrid. “Passing for a Native Speaker: Identity and Success in Second Language Learning.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 6.2 (2002): 179-206.

Spolsky, Bernard. Sociolinguistics. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Tong, Yuk Yue, et al. “Language Use as a Carrier of Social Identity.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations. 23.2 (1999): 281-296. <!--[endif]--> <!--[endif]-->

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