Heritage languages

Promoting Heritage Languages is a popular issue with certain educators. Something they can feel good about. I suspect part of the reason is ideological. To me, it seems part of the multicultural impulse, the idea amongst some intellectuals that the dominant culture in Western societies is somehow, all by itself, inadequate, and what is needed is more cultural diversity to water it down. Of course, any watering down of the dominant culture of the countries of origin of the immigrants is considered a bad thing. MacDonald's restaurants in China or Thailand are bad, but Chinese or Thai restaurants in the US are good.

In this world view, ??assimilation, and I mean voluntary assimilation, by immigrants is a bad thing, and retaining one's culture of origin is a good thing. Not just a matter of personal choice, but something the immigrant should do.

Now Rice University has produced a study that says, amongst other things, that immigrants who do not maintain their heritage language are less healthy than immigrants who do. I do not believe this for a second. Most adult immigrants retain their language, and many young immigrants, as was my case, do not. I doubt if it affects their health.

Don't get me wrong. I do believe that it is a good thing to learn another language. I believe that we benefit in many ways. I just do not think that whether the second or third language we learn is the ancestral language matters at all. It is just a matter of personal choice. That is how it was in my case. I am only now learning Czech, the language that my parents grew up with. This will be the 13th language that I am studying.


5 thoughts on “Heritage languages

  1. Hi Steve! I recently found your language blog (nice site, btw!). I’ve been working on a video series about the International Phonetic Alphabet and the English language, and I was wondering if it was the sort of thing you or your readers might be interested in (I hope comments are an OK way to reach you!). The first one is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e66ByetpDYIf you like them, I’d love to spread them to a wider audience. Also, judging by your posts, you might be interested in my site itself – it’s at http://www.towerofbabelfish.comBest regards,-Gabe

  2. Hi Steve,I agree with you on the point about language affecting your health. I don’t think the language that you learn has anything to do with your physical fitness.The only thing that I think could affect your well-being is more mental than anything. I think knowing your heritage language does give you that sense of fulfillment, pride and identity that does feed your ego as well as your need for self-fulfillment. I personally believe that if there one has a heritage language of their own that they should really pursue it. Both for practical/economic as well as ideological reasons. There is an intangible feeling of fulfillment and power in the ability to cross cultures and crush barriers just by simply using your lips.What do you think? 🙂

  3. Totally agree with this post of Steve. I find this multicultural blabla a big bunch of rubbish. I’m more inclined towards a universalist idealogy. This multicultural business only lets people focus on superficial diffirences and it is sometimes amazing how much people try to force this on you. Especially in western countries. There is a video up on youtube with Barack Obama, in which he mentions something along the line of this world becoming smaller and smaller, but some people who are afraid of this who try and fall back on minor individual diffirences, like race, religion etc. The link is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qGmq-peRM8&feature=related

  4. Doing something good for the wrong reasons will never work. Trashing your culture of origin is like cutting yourself from your own family. Usually not a wise thing to do, unless the situation commands it. In any case, this should be a personal decision.

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