In the United States, college students are flocking to learnthe language. Major U.S. book companies are publishing Spanish-language editions, available at your local Borders bookstore. Corporate America is increasingly selling itself through Spanish-language ads, and following the lead of CNN en Español, new arrival CBS Telenoticias is competing head-to-head with Univisión and Telemundo for U.S. and Latin American Spanish-speaking audiences. And immigrationcontinues to swell the ranks of Spanish speakers in this country. There were more than 17 million of them by 1990, more than the combined total of speakers of all other non-languages.
Despite the boom in Spanish, no one questions the continuing dominance of English in the United States and internationally. English is the lingua franca in the world today. Its status is ensured by its use incutting-edge areas such as science, aviation, and computers. Checking out the Internet's World Wide Web? About 83 percent of home pages are in English. No language in human history has ever had the global standing English currently enjoys.
A Question of Long-term Health
What is in question is the future of Spanish in this country. Beneath the upbeat statistics, there are serious concerns about itslong-term health. Studies show that the failure of many second- and third-generation Latinos to retain the language is depleting the pool of Spanish speakers. Yet that same pool is continually replenished by immigration. What will be the ultimate outcome of these seemingly contradictory trends?
The fate of immigrant languages has been to flower, then fade. Will that be the story of Spanish in thenext century? Many experts believe it already is happening. They say immigration merely prolongs the inevitable. Since large-scale Latin American immigration will not continue forever, they contend, Spanish in the United States will eventually decline. Only major changes in language attitudes and policies will prevent this. They point out that a script similar to that followed by previous immigrantsis being played out as U.S.-born Hispanics, for whom English is almost always the language of choice, seldom pass on Spanish to their offspring.
Recent studies by sociologists Alejandro Portes in Miami, and Rubén Rumbaut in San Diego, point to a rapid shift to English among the children of immigrants.
"All research during the last 30 years...points toward the irrevocable intergenerational lossof Spanish here," wrote Daniel Villa of New Mexico State University in one of many responses VISTA received after the posting of an inquiry on the Internet. Though Villa is conducting research that suggests it may not be happening any more, Michael Newman, a professor at New York University, sees evidence daily that Spanish is being lost. "It seems to me that Spanish is already following the usualimmigrant pattern, in New York at least. I have in my classes any number of semi-speakers of Spanish and non-speakers who are Hispanic in origin. I have very few, if any, fully bilingual second-generation speakers."
Attitudes a Major Factor
Attitudes about language will play a powerful role in Spanish's future. "I work with bilingual education programs in the Northwest," wrote Gary Hargett ofPortland, Ore., "and I have observed that Spanish-speaking children soon begin choosing English among themselves, even when there is permission, even encouragement, to use Spanish. I think children readily perceive that English is the language of privilege and power. That would bode ill for the future of Spanish."
A less than enthusiastic attitude about Spanish seems to be shared even by some...