bilingualism among immigrant families in Southern California

Rubén G. Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine, has written an interesting study titled The Evolution of Language Competencies, Preferences and Use Among Immigrants and their Children in the United States Today (PDF). It was prepared for the U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law for a hearing in May on immigration reform and U.S. immigrant integration.

Rumbaut’s findings back up the reputation of the United States as a graveyard for languages. The study has much of interest; but for this post I’ll focus just on Asian languages, which Rumbaut said “can be expected to die out at or near the second generation.”

Of special interest to readers of this site are the figures for foreign language fluency among longitudinal samples of young adult children of immigrants, as surveyed in 1992 (age 14), 1995, and 2002 (age 24).

The groups in the longitudinal study are Mexican, Cuban, Nicaraguan, Colombian, Dominican, Haitian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Laotian & Cambodian, and Chinese. Between 1992 and 2002, the percentages of those who said they could speak their foreign language “very well” increased — often substantially — for every group but two: Vietnamese (dropping from 33.8 percent to 29.7 percent) and Chinese (falling much more sharply, from 29.4 percent to 17.6 percent).

The figures for reading and writing also follow a downward trend among Chinese — and only among Chinese. Moreover, Chinese had the lowest rates among the tracked groups for those who can read very well or write very well. In 2002 a mere 2 percent of the Chinese group reported they could write Chinese very well.

non-sinitic state of Yue: SPP 176

Sino-Platonic Papers has released a completely new issue (not something from its archives): “The Submerged History of Yue,” by Eric Henry of the University of North Carolina.

This work uses passages in early Chinese texts, archeological findings, and comparative historical legend to build up a picture of the history and culture of the ancient state of Yue, located in the Mount Guiji area of present-day Zhejiang province. The article stresses the non-sinitic nature of this state and shows that it continued to exist in Southeast China long after the supposed date of its destruction.

The article is divided into the following sections:

  • The Distinctiveness of Yue
  • Material Remains
  • Chronology, Kinglists, and Survival
  • Language and Folklore
  • The Genesis of the Legend of Xi Shi
  • Conclusion

This is followed by two appendices and a photograph of the tomb of a Yue king.

The work is also available as a PDF (1 MB).

Here’s a bit of linguistic information:

It can also be deduced from surviving cultural and linguistic hints that the Yuè language belonged to the Austroasiatic family, which includes, among its modern members, Vietnamese, Mường, Chrau,Bahnar, Katu, Gua, Hre, Bonan, Brou, Mon, and Khmer, or Cambodian. In spite of the scantiness of surviving ancient evidence, Jerry Norman and Tsu Lin Mei, in a 1976 article, were able to demonstrate, based on ancient references to Yue words and dialectal survivals of non-sinitic words in the Mǐn dialects of Fújiàn, ten cases of words cognate with modern Vietnamese that were current in the Yuè cultural area in ancient times.*

* The modern Vietnamese words for which Norman and Mei demonstrate the existence of ancient southeast coastal cognates are: chết (to die), chó (dog), đồng (shaman), con (offspring), đằm (moist, soaked), sam (crab), biết (to know), bọt (scum, froth), bèo (duckweed), and kè (type of small fish).

Vietnamese culture appears shallow without Chinese characters, says Chinese writer

The bias many people in China have toward Chinese characters and against romanization is so entirely common that it’s hardly newsworthy. But I should probably bring up examples from time to time, just as a reminder. Here’s one.

The vice president of the Chinese Writers Association, Chen Jiangong (Chén Jiàngōng / 陈建功), recently gave a wide-ranging talk in Guangzhou. He touched on Vietnam’s adoption of the roman alphabet for its writing system:

Wǒ xiǎngqǐ le wǒmen zài shàng ge shìjì sānshí niándài de shíhou, Gùgōng Bówùyuàn de Yè Péijī yuànzhǎng shuō wénhuà ruò wáng zé yǒng wú bǔjiù, zhè shǐ wǒ xiǎngqǐ wǒ céngjīng fǎngwèn Yuènán de shíhou, jiù fāxiàn Yuènán zhèige mínzú guòqù cǎiyòng de shì Hànzì, zài shàng ge shìjì chū de shíhou, yīnwèi yī ge Fǎguó chuánjiàoshì wèile chuánbō tāmen de Jīdūjiào wénmíng, suǒyǐ jiù fāmíng le Lādīngwén de pīnyīn zìmǔ, Yuènánrén kāishǐ zhújiàn bùyòng Hànzì, jiù yòng Lādīng zìmǔ lái pīn Yuènán wén le, wǒ zài Yuènán fāxiàn tāmen de zuòjiā xiě de wénzhāng dōu shì yòng Lādīng zìmǔ lái pīn, zhèyàng jiù xiǎn de Yuènán de wénhuà gēnjī xiǎnde jíqí fúqiǎn le, wǒ jiù xiǎngqǐ le Yè Péijī de zhè jù huà.

Here’s a paraphrased translation:

In the 1930s Ye Peiji, the head of the Imperial Palace Museum, said that if culture is lost it’s gone forever. When I visited Vietnam I learned that the Vietnamese people once used Chinese characters. But because a French missionary invented a romanization method in order to spread Christianity, Vietnamese people gradually began not to use Chinese characters and instead used romanization for their language. In Vietnam, I discovered that their writers’ works all use romanization. Thus, the foundation for Vietnamese culture appears to be extremely superficial. This immediately brought to mind Ye Peiji’s words.

Pretty typical.

source: Zhùmíng zuòji? Chén Jiàng?ng lùn wénxué: Gu?ngzh?u bù shì wénhuà sh?mò (著名作家陈建功论文学:广州不是文化沙漠), Dàyáng W?ng, December 16, 2005