Spanish in the United States, beyond the third generation
Studies show the importance of school and family in the transmission of language
Cambridge, MA. November 6, 2014. The new release of the Informes del Observatorio/Observatorio Reports of the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University explores the acquisition of Spanish by children of the third generation. Carmen Silva-Corvalán, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Southern California, produced a report which analyzes the language development of two children in a bilingual environment.
Social bilingualism refers to the coexistence of two languages in the same territory. According to Silva-Corvalán, individuals who function in social bilingual environments may experience certain phenomena, such as the simplification of grammar, due to incomplete language acquisition during the first year of life or "wear and loss" of grammar.
Across the United States, there are many situations when two or more languages converge. Silva-Corvalán focuses on the study of contextual factors that play a crucial role in the development of bilingualism, such as the child’s age at the time of exposure to each language, social status of the speakers of the language and attitudes toward the language in the family and community. With the third generation of speakers of a language, the factors that most facilitate the acquisition and maintenance of the heritage language include its use in school and the intensity of its use, which can be aided by the presence of grandparents in the home.
Silva-Corvalán’s report focuses primarily on the language development of two brothers, whose exposure to Spanish came "almost entirely" from their linguistic interaction with their father and paternal grandmother. Among the findings, we see a parallel between language use in the children and second and third generation adult bilinguals, indicating that some changes in the use of the heritage language develop naturally during language acquisition. Other changes in language use are the result of a "process of interrupted acquisition" or more intensive exposure to another language, in this case English.
The periodical Informes del Observatorio/Observatorio Reports appears monthly on the website of the Observatory of the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University http://cervantesobservatorio.fas.harvard.edu/en, which is the main communication tool for academic and research activities of the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard.