Heritage Language Loss in the Chinese Community in Argentina
Calvin N. Ho
No ywrcn, SocArXiv from Center for Open Science
A rapid linguistic shift is happening in the Chinese community in Argentina, one of the newest immigrant groups in the country. Second- and third-generation Chinese-Argentines are quickly abandoning their home language variety (e.g. Taiwanese or Fujianese) for Spanish. At the same time, their parents are sending them to weekend language schools to acquire Standard Mandarin, a variety distinct from the language of the home. Through an ethnographic study of a weekend language school in Buenos Aires Chinatown, I seek to explore the phenomenon of language loss in the Chinese-Argentine community. In order to provide sufficient background to explain the linguistic and sociological phenomena observed, this paper will begin by providing a description of the Chinese community in Argentina, outlining theories of language loss in minority communities, and reviewing historical language shifts in China and Argentina. After laying out this framework, I will then describe the ethnographic project and analyze the observations I gathered in the field. I find that the Chinese community in Argentina is generally following the Fishman (1965) model of language shift, in which the Argentine-born second-generation is dominant in Spanish and chooses to raise children in that language, meaning that subsequent generations are monolingual in Spanish. However, weekend language schools complicate this shift by teaching Standard Mandarin to the youth of the community. Because second- and third-generation children are still acquiring Standard Mandarin in these schools, Chinese language and culture are being maintained at some level; however, it is still unclear how stable this maintenance is. What is clear is that because there is little to no reinforcement outside of the home, non-standard varieties of Chinese will not survive past the second generation. I hope that this paper will spur further research on the Chinese-Argentine community, on which there is very little social science literature.
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